Friday, July 31, 2009

RU8BIT?

Another completely off-topic post, but if you are a child of the Nintendo generation, you owe it to yourself to fight through this game, no matter how frustrating it gets or how stuck you think you are. There are comprehensive walkthroughs on YouTube in case you get stuck or start to believe a particular jump is impossible (hint: it's not).

This room has relatively few spikes and moving platforms...


Seriously. This game is frikkin' awesome. Play it. Now.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Finally, a piece of Islamic oppression that I can support

I've been tough on Muslims and on Sharia law in particular, but I think Sudan might have an idea here. I mean, maybe it's a little sexist to say so, and maybe even it's an egregious human rights violation, but I have to admit it would be pretty cool if I
Is this the new face of Islam?
was surrounded by attractive women not wearing any pants.

Oh? What's that you say? I've got this all wrong? They actually wanted the women to wear below-ankle-length traditional dresses? D'oh...

To summarize, a group of women in Sudan were arrested earlier this month for wearing pants, because that's like "indecent attire" or something, and while most of the women took a very reasonable plea bargain that only involved them being fined and then brutally flogged ten times in a row, this one troublemaker had to go get a lawyer and stage a defense because she has some crazy ideas about pants being perfectly acceptable attire, and corporal punishment maybe being medieval and barbaric or something.

Nope.
The Sudanese authorities wanted to make this go away by finding an exemption for her -- she is a UN employee and therefore has immunity -- but this brave woman chose to resign from the UN so that the court case could continue, in the hopes of getting the law changed. She faces 40 lashes if convicted.

I'm not crazy about her comments about how she thinks this isn't consistent with Sharia law (who fucking cares? The whole premise behind Sharia law is absurd, so why not just throw the cancer out with the bathwater, so to speak?) but she is incredibly brave nonetheless and worthy of our respect.

Smooth Inventor

I guess I'm way off topic on the blog today, but I thought this was cool. I'd heard about this a few years ago, but of course it's quite apropos to be reminded of it now. I present to you, Michael Jackson's patent. Yes, the Michael Jackson. It is for the special shoe that enabled the "Smooth Criminal" effect in his stage shows.

On the subject of "anti-gravity" illusions, you owe it to yourself to learn how to do Balducci levitation. It's an absurdly easy party trick that makes it appear as if you are levitating a couple inches off the ground. I'm terrible at selling magic tricks, but even so, I've gotten people to say, "Oh my god, how did you do that?" and I only practiced for like 15 minutes.

Steve Ballmer hypocrisy FAIL

What does Microsoft boss Steve Ballmer have to say about the search engine deal between Yahoo! and Microsoft?

...we will create...real consumer choice in a market currently dominated by a single company.

Hmmm, really? Let's see, what would Mr. Ballmer know about a "market currently dominated by a single company?"

Estimated Internet Explorer market share: 65-80%
Estimated Windows market share: 88-94%
Esimated Google market share: 54%

So, when Steve Ballmer says that Microsoft "will create...real consumer choice in a market currently dominated by a single company," I can only assume that what he means is that they will be sabotaging their own OS and web browser business... oh wait, that's not what he meant?

On a side note, I am not at all an anti-Microsoft partisan. I think Windows' market share was hard-fought and (mostly) deserved, although I think in a level playing field Linux would probably be at 30-40% now (it took a long time for the Linux distros to get user-friendly and stable enough to be a viable option for the casual user -- and Apple's insistence of tying their software to 1st-party hardware will always insure they have a loyal but small following). Internet Explorer's market share is not well-deserved, but Microsoft's position as top dog in the OS market made it inevitable. So I don't fault Microsoft their successes. I just think it's a little bit hypocritical for Steve Ballmer of all people to be talking about "real consumer choice in a market currently dominated by a single company." My irony meter is going bonkers.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I guess the Birthers were right all along

Ah hah, here is the proof that Obama is not an American citizen after all!

On a side note, take a gander at the ad for Carnation infant formula a couple inches up from the Obama birth announcement. Oy... "The milk every doctor knows -- because who can tell what that stuff is coming out of your boobs, lady! I sure can't, and I'm a doctor!"

The uncomfortable similarities between Religulous and Expelled!

There is a lot of discussion over at SciBlogs about the recent announcement that Bill Maher is the winner of the Richard Dawkins Award (important note: given out by the Atheist Alliance, not by Richard Dawkins). My opinion on whether Maher should have won the award or not is fairly boring -- I think his lunatic views on vaccines and alternative medicine make him a questionable choice, but I'm not up in arms about it either -- yet one allegation that has come up in the discussion has troubled me: Folks have been pointing out some uncomfortable similarities between Maher's movie Religulous and Ben Stein's pro-Intelligent Design flick Expelled!

I have to say right up front that I really enjoyed Religulous. I thought most of the movie was unfair-but-funny, in a sort of Borat-esque way. No, Maher wasn't using carefully reasoned arguments to critique religion, he was just brutally ridiculing it in a very entertaining way. More than that, the closing monologue, which juxtaposes images of destruction wrought by religion with a call to arms for nontheists to be more vocal about their beliefs, was somewhat of an awakening for me. It was what brought me "out of the atheist closet" and inspired me to finally read Dawkins and Hitchens. I particularly liked the line, "Faith is making a virtue out of not thinking."

I knew that he obtained some of the interviews on false pretense, neglecting to say he was making an anti-religion movie, and it was very clear that the interviews had been edited less for accuracy and more for maximum comic effect (I thought this was obvious enough that to keep it from being truly disingenuous). At the time, this didn't really bother me, because, as I said, it was a bit like Sasha Baren Cohen's technique: his uncompromosing unreasonableness jostles people out of their carefully rehearsed scripts, and gets them to betray their true beliefs, no matter how bigoted or stupid those beliefs may be.

But then there is Expelled!... I was as incensed as anyone about the false pretenses that Stein and his producers used to obtain interviews with Dawkins and Myers which they mercilessly quote-mined for out-of-context nonsense. The "Dawkins believes in space aliens!" canard is particularly galling. It just really, really pissed me off.

So how is that any different from Religulous? Maybe it's not. Maybe I am employing some pretty hypocritical double standards here. Or maybe, one's intention really does make a difference... maybe it really is okay to be a little unfair when you are taking down bigoted and unthinking authority figures? But then, I suppose that's how Stein's Creationist fans view his actions... Does that mean that I have to choose between enjoying Religulous and labeling fans of Expelled! as hypocrites?

I dunno... it's troubling. I think ultimately I'm going to be a bit of an absolutist here: Maher's conclusion was right, despite his questionable methods, and that justifies a little shenanigans. Stein's conclusion was wrong, which makes his questionable methods all the more egregious.

Maybe that's a double standard, but I think I am at least consistent in applying this double standard... if that is possible. For instance, Michael Moore's movies kind of fall in the middle for me, i.e. I guardedly agree with some of his conclusions but have a problem with others, and not surprisingly I am more troubled by his methods than I was by Maher's, but not enraged the way I am at Ben Stein's dishonest idiocy.

Bah, I suppose in the end, it doesn't matter. I enjoyed Religulous and found the end inspiring. Do I really have to decide whether it is "okay" or not that Maher had to be a big liar to make the movie?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Could God coin a word so self-contradictory, even He couldn't define it?

My wife is most definitely an apatheist, so she had a bit of an issue with the quote from Joel Grus in the previous post. Her take is that, since it would be morally repugnant to acquiesce to an individual that bore even a passing resemblance to the Old Testament God, the appropriate response to evidence of eternal damnation would be to live one's life as if it didn't exist, a sort of epic existential thumbing-of-the-nose at this hypothetical supreme being.

I agree on the moral repugnance of obedience-under-threat, but in my opinion, if there were enough evidence to make the existence of a Hell-threatening God the simplest explanation, it would be incumbent upon humanity to do whatever we could to oppose said deity. We're getting a bit sci-fi now, but you get my point.

"Okay," says my wife, "but what if the god were omnipotent?"

I can't really answer this question because I don't think the idea of omnipotence is even self-consistent. It is a semantic trick, not an actual definable concept.

The classic question is, "Could God create a stone so large even He couldn't lift it?" (Or, if you prefer the wisdom of the Simpsons, "Could God microwave a burrito so hot even He couldn't eat it?") Omnipotence by its very nature is self-contradictory. This hypothetical omnipotent being cannot have powers that contradict its other powers... and since the examples above show that some conceivable powers clearly contradict each other, it doesn't make sense to say that a being has all conceivable powers.

If this image was a broken link, what color would the Unicorn be?
I think it goes beyond this, though. When we say that "God can do anything," what do we even mean by that? It is like saying, "The Invisible Pink Unicorn is all colors at once." It sounds poetic, but the sentence is ultimately devoid of content.

Omnipresence is similarly meaningless. Omniscience is at least a definable concept, but it is also inherently impossible because of Gödel's incompleteness theorems1, which roughly state that no system can ever fully describe itself. In other words, you could hypothetically have a near-omniscient being, but there would have to be some aspects of itself that remained unknown to it. This makes good intuitive sense, as well, because you get an infinite regress -- the mechanism that allows the hypothetical omniscient being to know that last teensy bit about itself must also be known to it, and the mechanism for knowing the mechanism must also be known, so on ad infinitum.

So I don't think we need to answer the question of, "Would you live your life any differently if there is an omnipotent being who" yada-yada-yada... the question is not fully parseable. However, we can answer the question, "Would you live your life any differently if there really was a magic sky daddy
If this guy could walk on water and raise the dead, wouldn't he still be a fucking douchebag?
who held all sorts of bigoted opinions about women and homosexuals and people who aren't sufficiently gullible?" And the answer, for me, is a resounding YES, because then I would be rather keen to either a) convince the magic sky daddy not to be such a dick, or b) figure out some way of stopping the magic sky daddy from doing his dirty deeds.

I suppose the answer would be the same as, "What would you do if you lived under a repressive totalitarian government?" I can't say for sure that in all situations I would have the bravery to stand up and oppose injustice, but I'd like to think I would. Whether the repressive government is run by a bunch of humans or by an angry deity in the sky, I don't see as how it would make that much of a difference in our response.

1Thanks to reader eduardopadoan for reminding me of the name of this concept.

Joel Grus on apatheism

Joel Grus summarizes the contents of his book in the video below. My favorite quote:

Apatheism is the idea that it doesn't matter whether there's a God or not. And I say to you that whether or not there's an angry man in the sky who wants to torture you forever after you die if you don't believe in him, is THE most important question there is, and you should thank me for bringing it up.


Word.

Your Religion Is False from Jeriaska on Vimeo.



He does 80 slides in about 17 minutes, so the pacing is, uh, a little off-putting at first. But once he starts rolling with the individual religions, it develops a nice rhythm.

Beer can duck!

Mmmmmmm, duck...
In my fifth post ever on this blog, I promised I was going to try a variation on the ol' beer can chicken recipe by using it to cook a duck that I had sitting around in my freezer. Well, I finally got around to trying it last night.

There were some execution issues with using this technique on a larger bird, but all in all it came out pretty well. I still think my favorite way of preparing duck is a braise, though... that is the only method I have found that sufficiently breaks down the fat enough for my tastes. This was still delicious, though, and I can definitely recommend it if you like roast duck.

I almost never use my charcoal grill, but I decided to go for it this time. For one thing, the burner layout on my gas grill is not good for indirect cooking. For another, I thought the smokiness might give it a nice flavor. Mostly, it was because I had bought a charcoal chimney a month or two ago and still hadn't gotten a chance to try it out.

I had been worried that the lid on my grill wasn't tall enough to accommodate a fully-upright duck, but this turned out to be irrelevant, as it also turns out that a beer can in its ass is not sufficient support to keep a duck fully-upright. As you can see in the
My jury-rigged system for propping up the duck
picture to the left, I had to kinda prop up the other end with a second beer can. Maybe a stick or skewer or something may have been better here. I dunno. Anyway, it worked.

I think what really made this duck delicious was the marinade I used. It was loosely inspired by Alton Brown's duck recipe. The amounts in the recipe below are very approximate, because I did one of those "little bit of this, little bit of that" things, but it should be fairly tolerant to variations. I was extremely pleased with the flavor it gave to the skin. Probably the wood chips I used didn't hurt either.

Recipe and more pics below the fold.

Beer Can Duck

  • 1/4 cup pineapple-orange juice
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp whole mustard seed
  • 1 Tbsp black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp whole cloves
  • 5-6 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • one 5-lb. duck
  • one or two cans of cheap beer
  • sweet wood chips, soaked in water (optional)

Combine first seven ingredients and place with duck in a large freezer bag. Let marinate in refridgerator for 4-8 hours. Remove duck from marinade and scrape off any peppercorns or cloves that cling to it (if a few mustard seeds stick to it, that's okay).

A charcoal grill set up for indirect cooking
Set grill up for indirect cooking: For a charcoal grill, get the coals going good and then pile them all up on one side. For a gas grill, turn on only half the burners. If you have an actual indirect barbecue, you're way ahead of me, I'm sure you can figure it out.

When grill is ready, chug a third of one beer and shove it in the duck's cavity. Place duck on the cool side of the grill. If duck won't stand up straight, chug half of another beer and use it to prop up the other end of the duck. If using wood chips, place them in a wood chip box, or however you do your wood chips, on the hot side of the grill. Cover grill. Check duck after 20-30 minutes and if it is cooking unevenly, turn it appropriately.

Cook until duck reaches desired doneness, about 1 hour for medium rare (internal temp of 150F) or about 1 1/2 hours for a more done duck (165-175F). Remove duck from grill, tent loosely with foil, and let rest 5-10 minutes before carving.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Let's play "Guess the Intolerant Religion!"

Absolutely terrible story in the news right now... an 8-year-old girl in Arizona, the daughter of Liberian immigrants, was lured into a shed by a group of boys aged 9 to 14 and repeatedly raped. As if that weren't bad enough, her family decided that the girl had "shamed" them, and basically refused to do anything to take care of her in the aftermath of the rape, leading the girl being taken into custody by CPS.

Now, I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that the reason they feel like a rape victim brings shame in the family probably has to do with religion. I mean, I've never heard of secular humanist saying, "Since I abhor dogma and hold reason in the highest regard, I'm'a go honor-kill mah daughter!" However, none of the news reports say anything about the parents' religion, though, so I'm not sure which sickening delusion I should be criticizing today. What a quandary!

According to Wikipedia, Liberia has a plurality of Christians (40%), so playing the odds that would be most likely. They do have a non-trivial Muslim population (20%), and I gotta say, this type of shenanigans has the earmark of being inspired by the Religion of Peace... but who knows, it could just as easily be Christianity, or even an indigenous Liberian belief system (20%).

Now accepting bets!

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Coexist? Comedy Tour

This is a cool concept... it is a comedy tour featuring a Muslim comedian, a Christian comedian, a Hindu comedian, a Jewish comedian, and atheist comedian, and a Buddhist comedian. Below is a youtube video with clips from a bunch of them.



Funny stuff.

More pizzas

We had our friends Kurt and Dar over for dinner last night and we made more pizzas. Heh, what can I say, it's cheap and a crowd-pleaser.

Along with a standard pizza with yer basic toppings, we did a sort of "shrimp pad thai"-inspired pizza and a beet, goat cheese, and pistachio pizza. The former was a big hit, the latter was alright but was kinda dry and seemed like it was missing something. Maybe some other kind of cheese?

Sorry, no pictures, but approximate recipes below.


"Shrimp pad thai" pizza
  • 3/4 lb uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp peanut oil
  • 5-6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 Thai chile peppers, minced
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • 4 Tbsp chopped cilantro
  • 1-2 Tbsp Thai green curry paste
  • 1 14-oz. can coconut milk
  • 1 Tbsp fish sauce
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped peanuts
  • 3 Tbsp basil chiffonade
  • 1 med. orange or red bell pepper, sliced into rings
  • small handful of bean sprouts
  • your favorite pizza crust

Combine shrimp, soy sauce, 1/4 cup peanut oil, half of minced garlic, and about a third of minced chile peppers in a medium bowl. Toss to coat. Place in refridgerator to marinate.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 2 Tbsp peanut oil over medium heat and add scallions, half of cilantro, and remaining garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic and white parts of scallion start to soften, about 3-4 minutes. Add curry paste and stir until aromatic, about one minute longer. Add coconut milk. If desired, dilute with some chicken broth (I kindof wish I had done this...). Simmer until flavors start to combine, about 5-10 minutes. Add fish sauce and 1/4 cup chopped peanuts, and simmer a little longer, about 3 minutes. Add basil and remove from heat. Set aside.

Preheat broiler. Remove shrimp from marinade and place on broiler pan. When broiler is ready, place shrimp six inches from heating element and cook until starting to caramelize on the outside, about 3-4 minutes per side. Remove shrimp and set oven to 425 degrees.

You will probably want to pre-cook the crust a bit, as the ingredients on the pizza don't really need to cook much and there is no cheese to melt. When crust is fairly close to done, spread enough of the sauce on crust to cover it, and then evenly distribute bell peppers, bean sprouts, and shrimp over crust. Top with remaining 1/4 cup chopped peanuts. Bake about another 5-10 minutes, being careful not to let the peanuts get burnt. Remove from oven and sprinkle with remaining cilantro.


Beet, goat cheese, and pistachio pizza
  • mixture of extra virgin olive oil and minced garlic1
  • 2-3 medium beets, roasted and then chopped into 1/4" cubes
  • ~3 Tbsp goat cheese, crumbled
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped pistachios
  • 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped pea greens
  • your favorite pizza crust

Spread olive oil and garlic mixture over crust to cover. Evenly distribute beets, goat cheese, and pistachios over the crust. Sprinkle Parmesan over top. Bake until crust reaches desired crispness. Sprinkle with pea greens just before serving.

1I've started experimenting with mincing a bunch of garlic and putting it in a jar in the fridge with extra virgin olive oil -- you know, kinda like that jar you can buy at the supermarket, only way better because it's homemade from fresh ingredients with no preservatives or other funky shit. If you don't have this on hand, it should be fine to just spread the olive oil on the crust followed by a reasonable amount of minced garlic.


So, a couple problems with these recipes: The Thai pizza was delicious, but too heavy. As I mentioned in the recipe, probably it would be better to dilute the coconut milk with some chicken broth. Possibly also using low-fat coconut milk might be a good idea. Also, be warned, it's a bit spicy.

The beet pizza was interesting but a bit dry. Mariah thinks maybe adding some fontina cheese would have improved it. I had mozzarella on hand, but I think it would have been weird. Also, although I enjoyed them, Mariah didn't care for the raw pea greens on top. To each his own...

Can I demand an atheist police officer?

The Beeb reports:

Sikh victims of crime in London are to be given the option of asking for a police officer of their own faith to work on their case.


It might not actually be that horrible of an idea. The Beeb continues:

This new service from the Metropolitan Police (Met) aims to make use of the officers' specialist knowledge of Punjabi culture to help with cases like forced marriage and so-called honour crime.

Officers within the Met have told the BBC Asian Network that crimes in the community have gone unsolved and unreported because of a lack of understanding of the culture by officers from a "white" background.


Well.... okay, I guess. I mean, honor killings should not go unreported because the victims' families also happen to be racist assholes. But let's not get any warm multi-cultural fuzzies here. The reason this is necessary is because there are some totally fucked-up Sikh beliefs that are totally unworthy of respect, and some crime victims are so brainwashed that they won't even report the crimes for fear that the cops might not give ultimate respect to their fucked-up beliefs.

(And before anyone asks me to be more tolerant, I absolutely refuse to apologize for saying that beliefs condoning honor killings are unworthy of respect.)

Via Joel.

There is no such thing as secular totalitarianism

I was reading another great article from the Economist, when I encountered this paragraph:

Ah, but Stalin and Hitler and Mao! Give me a break. Sure, they were atheists. But they did not kill because they were atheists. Hitler was a fanatical racist and Mao and Stalin fanatical communists, and they killed in the name of those fundamentalist philosophies.

Let's ignore Hitler for a second, because his religious beliefs are not at all clear. So let's focus on Stalin and Mao, who were both unambiguous about their nominal atheism.

I am going to one step further than The Economist, and argue (as I have in the comments on other blogs) that Stalin and Mao were not actually atheists in any useful sense of the word.

Atheism is usually defined as the lack of a belief in a god or gods. Okay, so how do we define the word "god"? Well, you could write a frikkin' book about that, but certainly some important elements would be infallibility, omnipotence/absolute control, etc. There exists another concept to which these attributes are integral: the totalitarian state.

Any useful definition of atheism -- or at least, of secularism -- has to reject the idea of a single uncompromising source of authority. Otherwise, the definition gets watered down to something almost meaningless, e.g. atheism is the lack of belief in Jesus, Buddah, Yahweh, Shiva, Brahma, Zeus, Thor, etc. In order for the definition to be useful, there must be a functional definition of what beliefs atheism rejects, rather than just a laundry list of deities.

In a totalitarianist dictatorship, the dictator is god, by any useful functional definition. He1 is all-powerful. He cannot be questioned. His command(ment)s must be obeyed. In the case of post-Mao China, there was not a single dictator but it was still a totalitarianist state, and in that case the bureaucracy fills the role of god.

Still don't believe me? North Korea has even had the good grace to formally codify the country's totalitarian ideals as a religion.

If you are skeptical about this expansive definition of god(s), consider the Heaven's Gate cultists. Certainly they did not appear to believe in god(s) in the traditional sense, but it would be laughable to refer to them as a "secular" or "atheist" group. Clearly they were not. To me, it is equally clear that Stalinist Russia could not be reasonably labeled as secular or atheist, either.

But wait, you say, even if we accept that Stalinism and Maoism are not actually atheistic belief systems, that doesn't mean that Stalin or Mao couldn't be atheist! Well, sort of. We can ask whether Stalin really believed in his heart that he had the wisdom to command all of the Soviet Union, but not only is this question unanswerable, it is ultimately irrelevant.

It is almost a surety that some fraction of the Catholic priests who have been convicted of child molestation had internally abandoned their faith prior to their despicable actions... does this mean that the molestations were now committed by atheist priests, and that atheists must answer for their actions? No, of course not. The priests were part of the Catholic infrastructure, they self-identified as Catholics, so we have little choice but to say they are Catholics.

By the same token, it's possible -- maybe even likely -- that Stalin and Mao did not actually believe in their own infallibility. But to say that this means they weren't truly totalitarianists is about as meaningful as saying that maybe David Koresh didn't literally believe he was a prophet and therefore he wasn't a Branch Davidian. That's retarded. Stalin and Mao preached totalitarianism, therefore they were totalitarianists, not atheists. End of story.

In short: It is my contention that secular totalitarianism is an oxymoron. Totalitarianism by its very nature is non-secular, because it promotes ideals of infallibility and absolute obedience that are not compatible with a secular worldview. By definition, no totalitarian dictator can be rightly termed an atheist.

1I'm normally rather careful with pronouns, to either say "he or she", or if I am writing informally, the singular "they". However, I'm not aware of any female totalitarianist dictators, so I think I am safe in using the male pronoun here. Correct me if I'm wrong!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Economist nails the accomodationism debate almost by accident

In The Economist's review of the book The Selfish Genius: How Richard Dawkins Rewrote Darwin’s Legacy by Fern Elsdon-Baker, the reviewer gives us, almost as an aside, what I think is one of the most balanced and insightful characterizations of the accomodationism debate that I have yet to come across.

After a largely negative review in which Eldson-Baker's arguments are mostly dismantled, the final paragraph reads:

What is left, once these attacks are dismissed, is a critique of Mr Dawkins’s proselytising atheism. It is true this wins him few converts, when a collaboration with religious moderates against the creationists might bear weightier fruit. But if his intellectual rigour forbids him making common cause with people he thinks are wrong, that perhaps only shows he is indeed the rottweiler of legend.


Hear hear. What the "militant accomodationists" (heh) like Mooney are failing to understand is that it doesn't even matter whether pragmatism recommends a strategy of accomodation. While certainly there are many disparate voices in the non-accomodationist side, the one thing they all have in common is that they refuse to say something they think is plainly untrue in order to further a political purpose. We can debate how realistic it is to take such a principled stand, but to act like it is somehow unreasonable to feel that way... that's just crazy!

The accomodationists should just come out and admit it: They want us to Lie For Science. Maybe they're right, but let's not pretend the request is anything else.

Techno wedding march

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Test post 2

Okay, one more test... Think I found the problem.

This message was sent using the Picture and Video Messaging service from Verizon Wireless!

Text below the fold...

FYI, if anybody is interested here is a description of the bug. Luckily I don't have to use the crazy workarounds they describe over there, because I can easily just change the offending id tag to something that doesn't collide. I am pretty sure it is fixed now, but I am unable to test it until later.

Internet Explorer Epic Fail

Oh shit, I just discovered that all of my custom Javascript has been failing in IE, which caused the "Continue reading..." link at the bottom of longer posts to get omitted entirely. It may also be breaking comments in IE as well.

Fucking Internet Explorer... WTF... Anyway, the blog may be unstable for the next little while as I try to fix this. Goddamn it..

Update: It works in IE8, but not in any version before that. It also seems to fail in versions of Opera prior to 9.8. So it looks like some of the Javascript I used is fairly new. (Although, it works fine in both Firefox 0.9.3 and Chrome 0.4.154.33 -- even though Firefox 2 came out around the same time as IE7. Just sayin'.)

I'm thinking it should be possible to either a) detect whether it's going to work or b) failing that, detect the most common too-old browsers1, and insert a fallback. The fallback in this case would likely be that every single post will have a "Continue reading..." link, regardless of whether there is anything below the fold or not. Boo, hiss!

1I adamantly refuse to detect browsers I know are compatible, and then use the fallback if the browser is unrecognized. I have an ideological problem with this. If the website doesn't recognize the browser, it should (maybe) warn the user, and then chuck the HTML at 'em anyway. If it works, great. If it doesn't, use a different browser.

Blogging via text message

The problem with blogging via text message is that Verizon always puts "This message sent using yada yada" at the end. To see how I resolved this problem, check out the HTML source of this post...

This message was sent using the Picture and Video Messaging service from Verizon Wireless!

To learn how you can snap pictures and capture videos with your wireless phone visit www.verizonwireless.com/picture.

Note: To play video messages sent to email, QuickTime� 6.5 or higher is required.

Results of ScienceBlogs upgrayedd

Ah, I see how they are going to improve performance... by giving everyone the mobile phone view!


D'oh... in the meantime, why not visit/comment on a blog that isn't going through a disastrous attempt at an upgrade -- like maybe this one?

Bad news from the UK

The BBC reports that an average of 52 pubs are closing per week. Fifty-two! To put that in perspective, in 2006 an average of only two pubs closed per week, with the number of new ones opening being comparable. The numbers this year represent an actual marked decrease in the number of neighborhood pubs. The primary cause is the global recession. suxorz.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Wright is wrong on evolution

There's a minor kerfuffle going on right now because of an article and its follow-up over at HuffPo, penned by Robert Wright, author of The Evolution of God. His original article asserted that "the 'New Atheists' are right-wing on foreign policy" because saying that religion is at the root of all evil gives comfort to those who would like to blame all US foreign policy issues on those "crazy Muslims." Specifically, he calls out Dawkins for saying that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is rooted in religion, as opposed to a secular land dispute.

I have a number objections to Wright's argument, of course, but I do think he has a point that we should not get so wrapped up in opposing religion's (obviously negative) influence that we ignore other issues. I'm sure others have discussed the problems with his argument ad nauseum, so I'm going to leave that alone for now.

Instead, I am going to focus on a complete blunder he commits in the follow-up piece. While discussing whether Daniel Dennett's characterization of religion as a "virus of the mind" puts him in the same category, Wright gives us this howler:

Would Dawkins and Dennett say that religious belief is always, or even usually, parasitic in the Darwinian sense--bad for the reproductive prospects of the host? If so, how do you explain the number of Catholics in the world?

Facepalm!

Let me get this straight: Wright is trying to say that Darwinian logic dictates that a parasite should be "bad for the reproductive prospects of the host"? That makes no fucking sense whatsoever.

Clue: A parasite cannot live without a host. The more hosts there are, the more potential living spaces there are for the parasite. The more potential living spaces there are for the parasite, the better the reproductive prospects of the parasite. So no, there is no "Darwinian" reason why a parasite would want to interfere with the reproductive prospects of the host.

Just the opposite, in fact. This is why the most successful parasites tend to be more innocuous. Parasites that kill their host tend to be less successful.

As Wright makes clear in the sentences that follow, he is getting confused about the definition of a parasite vs. a symbiont. As he correctly states, a symbiont confers a reproductive advantage on the host, while a parasite does not. This does not necessarily mean that the parasite confers a reproductive disadvantage on the host. Certainly many parasites do harm their hosts as a natural result of doing their business, but from a Darwinian perspective it behooves the parasite to minimize this damage.

So does the fact that there are a little over a billion Catholics in the world mean that it is unfair to refer to Catholicism as a "virus"? Nope: The number of people infected with HPV is probably even higher. And guess what, the V in HPV stands for "virus". So no, the fact that a billion people are infected with the Catholic meme does not in any way mean we can't call it a virus.

And in any case, even if we ignore this gaffe, the argument against Dennett he presents in that paragraph has all sorts of other problems. First, as he admits, it is only generally speaking that viruses are harmful to the host, so it is not fair to baldly assert that when Dennett refers to religion as a virus he must also be saying it is a parasite. Second, Wright asserts that religion "manifestly helps people flourish" but doesn't give any evidence to back it up -- except I guess the number of Catholics in the world? Well, then Wright must also believe that genital warts manifestly help people flourish, too, right?

The most frustrating thing about all this is that if Wright wasn't so intent on being an asshole, he might have a good point. If his thesis was that the "New Atheists" should be careful not to carry the issue too far, it might be a point well taken. But instead he just wants to say the "New Atheists" aren't any good -- which is exactly the kind of intolerance that sparked this movement to begin with.

Please do not read Romans 14:8 at my funeral

Mariah and I went to a funeral this morning for one of her uncles. She has like a bazillion relatives, which has the odd result that I have been to more funerals in the year and a half that we've been married than the other 29 years of my life combined.

In any case, it was a Christian funeral, so of course lots of Bible verses and praying. (At least there was no bad music...) Some of the Bible verses, I can understand why you would quote them at a funeral. For instance, they read something from Song of Solomon about how when you die you don't actually die, but instead you are chastised for a little while and then go to some kind of paradise, mumble mumble. It's a bit infantile, but I can see how it could be comforting.

But when we were coming in, the minister/pastor/whatever was reading this passage:

If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.
--Romans 14:8


Uh, dude... Okay, so yeah, I know that many theists find the idea of "belonging to God" to be comforting, but I don't, and I don't really understand why they do. The way I parse it is, "Doesn't matter whether you live or die, either way you are Jesus' bitch." I just don't get it...

The PZ Effect (He's no Slashdot...)

It turns out that a friend of mine whose blog I have in my blogroll is really obsessive about tracking his server usage, and when I started to get Pharyngulian hits the other day it manifested itself by a huge spike in fetches of his favicon. This gives us an indirect way of tracking hits to my blog. The chart below shows the approximate magnitude and duration of a PZ Ninja Horde. I have annotated it with significant events that affected the traffic.


(click for larger image)

Unfortunately, I was not able to track the difference between being the top post on Pharyngula vs. just on the main page, because PZ posted again ten minutes after the original post, and the granularity of this chart is one hour.

Monday, July 20, 2009

What atheism is not

I was recently having a discussion with someone in the comments on this excellent blog post, and it got me to thinking about common misconceptions about atheism. I just thought I had come to a consensus with the guy I was arguing with that while I didn't really have anything to say if you chose to apply the label "God" to the unknown origin of the universe, as soon as this "God" actually does anything then it becomes a falsifiable proposition (or if not falsifiable, at least a proposition to which one can attach a probability) and we can apply science to it... to which he suddenly and unexpectedly responded, "Ah hah! See, you just admitted that your atheism is just another unprovable belief, like any other religion. Don't try to say it is backed up by science!" I was initially baffled, but an hour or so later, I think I figured out the mental processes that led him to this conclusion.

I had intended to blog about it that evening, but completely forgot -- until I was reading this interview with Terry Eagleton at The New Humanist, and realized that Eagleton is making the exact same mental error. I am beginning to think this misconception I am about to introduce, while it sounds absurd when you state it plainly, is actually quite common.

The misconception could be stated like this: "Atheism" is the belief that anything which is referred to by the label "God" does not exist.

It seems that no matter how often we caveat that we are referring to the words "God" and "religion" in the sense that most people understand them, someone always replies with a redefinition of the terms -- whether it be the deist or pantheist God, a religion that deals only in allegory and metaphor, or what have you -- that dodges the objections of the "New Atheists".

This has been dealt with so many times -- in fact, the Sean Carroll post on which I was commenting talks about this problem -- that the only way I can explain the prevalence of this fallacy is if people have subconciously fucked up the definition of atheism in their head.

Thou shalt have no other cheesy snack products before me.
As a thought experiment, I would like to propose a new language, which is exactly like American English, except that the word "God" and the word "Cheetos" have been transposed. It appears to me that Eagleton and his ilk sincerely believe that if an atheist were to travel to a country that spoke this hypothetical language, he or she would stubbornly deny the existence of highly-processed cheese-flavored corn snacks, while casually munching Jesus out of a bag. (Finally, a practical use for the doctrine of transubstantiation!)

In a word: No.

Look, if you want to adopt some touchy-feely philosophy where God is a metaphor for the "human spirit" or something, that's fine. And if you want to call it religion, that's also fine. That's not what we're talking about, at least not until you start putting stock in ancient sectarian texts or engaging in magical thinking. Most of the "New Atheist" writers are quite explicit about exactly what they mean when they talk about God and religion. To substitute something other than what they describe and say that this defeats the argument is either semantic trickery, a misunderstanding of what the author is stating, or else sloppy thinking on the level that would cause someone to worship a bag of Cheetos.

I dream of suing genie

"Does anybody know a good lawyer?"
This time, the comedy troupe known as "Shariah law" have really outdone themselves. I mean, what could possibly be more hilarious than lopping off people's limbs in front of hundreds of women and children? (It's funny because it's brutal)

CNN reports that a Shariah court in Saudi Arabia is hearing a lawsuit by a family that wants to sue the genie that is haunting their house. Oooookaaaay.....

Says CNN:

In Islamic cultures, a belief in genies, or jinns, is common.


Oh, well then! That makes it all okay. As long as the entire culture is fucking insane, there's no reason to complain I guess. Since a belief in astrology is common in our culture, I look forward to suing the planets for not aligning properly.

Via Ed Brayton.

The "Other" Accomodationism: Are the Abrahamic religions compatible with a pro-LGBT stance?

Last weekend was our town's Pride parade, and just like last year, there are about a half a dozen or more churches that march in the parade, with signs like "All our welcome" and "God loves you the way you are," etc.

I always have mixed feelings when they go by. It would probably be an understatement to say I am not exactly fond of religion. On the other hand, it's hard to really be all that upset at people for promoting tolerance.

I think there is a parallel here to the Creationism-centric accomodationism/"New Atheist" debate. Namely, is a religion that accepts Leviticus as scripture compatible with a stance that is tolerant and accepting of homosexuality?

The Bible seems pretty unambiguous on this point, so I would tend to answer "no". And until a little over a year ago, I viewed attempts by LGBT people and their families to reconcile their religion with the reality of their lives to be rather superfluous. The whole philosophy is based on intolerance; why go to all the mental gymnastics to remake it into something tolerant when you could just discard the whole godforsaken thing?

I command you to see this movie.
I have since adopted a somewhat more "accomodationist" standpoint on this, and it was the result of seeing the movie For the Bible Tells Me So. It is a documentary about conservative religious parents who have an LGBT son or daughter, and how the family chooses to deal with it. Some of the parents, as with the straight-laced looking family on the poster, eventually come not only to accept their son, but to embrace the cause of promoting LGBT rights and helping other families to reconcile their faith with a tolerance for homosexuality. Other families have a much harder time, coming only to a tacit acknowledgment, still disapproving strongly of their childrens' lifestyle.

The movie is heartbreaking, and helped me to understand just how important this issue is. Some families are simply not going to give up their beliefs no matter what. For them, finding a way to reconcile their faith with homosexuality is not just an exercise in academics, but rather it is critical to maintaining their familial ties. In some cases, it could even be a life-or-death issue, as the shockingly high suicide rate among LGBT teens demonstrates.

For the Bible Tells Me So puts forth some arguments addressing the passages in the Bible condemning homosexuality and how they can be interpreted in ways other than the obvious one. The most convincing was a reframing of the story of Soddom and Gomorah, which basically argued that the cities were destroyed because they failed to show proper hospitality to travelers, and that teh buttsex was just a red herring. I actually buy this one, but it still leaves numerous other passages that are pretty explicitly anti-gay.

To deal with Leviticus, they have a rabbi who argues that the word "abomination" is not a particularly good translation, and that the original Hebrew word would have been close to "against tradition" -- so therefore, Leviticus was not saying that homosexuality was evil, it was merely saying that the Jews in the time of Moses just traditionally didn't do it. This sounds compelling until you remember that the penalty proscribed in Leviticus is nothing short of death, which makes it a bit hard to swallow that this was just intended as a style issue. (And anyway, the historicity of the story of Moses is extremely dubious, which it makes it sort of meaningless to talk about the "cultural context" of a culture that was made-up...)

Other mentions of homosexuality in the Bible are similarly framed as an issue of "this is our culture" as opposed to "this is what is right and wrong". To me, it's a bit ho-hum -- but if it means the difference between a family loving their son or daughter and embracing them for who they are, vs. estrangement and resentment.... Hey, I'm all for it.

So I roll my eyes a bit when the churchies march past in the Pride parade. But I'm glad they are there, anyway. It's progress.

A new way to eat your greens

One of the challenges of belonging to a CSA is that you generally get a lot of greens. Like, a lot of greens. Kale, Swiss chard, mustard greens, various cabbages, some stuff I was unable to identify... You'll be eating greens at least once a week, often two or three times a week, so you'd better find a way of preparing them that you enjoy.

Cooked kale. What am I gonna do with this?
I'm generally fine with just cooking up my greens in a bit of olive oil and garlic, but that tends to get old after awhile, and in any case my wife doesn't care for it that way. She finds that it's almost impossible to get them seasoned to her liking, i.e. they are either too salty, or else underseasoned and bland.

We both enjoy beans and greens quite a bit. For those that don't know, you just take canned cannellini beans, cook them with the liquid from the can until it starts to thicken, then add your greens and some chicken broth, maybe a little seasoning too, and cook until the greens are done. It's delicious and filling, but this gets old too if it's your only way of preparing the copious amount of greens that come from a CSA.

So last night, faced with some kale that desperately needed to be used up, we set about to find a new way to prepare greens that we both would enjoy.

Inspired by a recipe we found online for a potato and kale puree, I came up with the dish that follows. It was a big hit with Mariah, and easy to make too.

Baked mashed potatoes with chopped kale
  • 2 lbs. potatoes, cut into large pieces (peeled or unpeeled, your choice1)
  • one large bunch coarsely chopped kale, about 3-4 cups
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2-3/4 cup milk (whole milk is tastiest, other milk is healthier)
  • 2-6 Tbsp butter or oil (more butter is tastier, less is healthier -- duh)
  • Pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup freshly shredded Parmesan
Mashed potatoes with kale. You could eat these just the way they are, but why not bake some cheese on top?
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Bring two pots of aggressively salted2 water to a boil. Place kale in one, potatoes in the other. Drain kale when it is tender, about 5-10 minutes. Drain potatoes when they are soft enough to rice/mash, about 15 minutes.

Finely chop cooked kale. Pass potatoes through a ricer, or mash with potato masher or wooden spoon. Combine potatoes, kale, milk, and butter or oil in medium bowl. Do not overstir, or your potatoes will become gluey. Add pepper to taste, possibly salt if necessary -- check first.

The finished product.
Transfer potato and kale mixture to a casserole dish and cover top with parmesan. Place uncovered in oven and bake until cheese on top just begins to show some brown.

1You may have heard that it is healthier to leave your potatoes unpeeled. This is a myth. While it is true that the skin is much more nutrient-dense than the flesh of the potato, think about it: the skin is paper-thin, while the flesh makes up something like 99+% of the potato. Sure, the skin is healthier, but do you think it is one hundred times as rich in nutrients? Nuh uh. Now, my family happens to prefer mashed potatoes with the skins, because of the rustic texture and earthy flavor. But if you don't care for it, don't feel compelled to leave them in for the nutrients. The nutritional benefit is insignificant.

Juniper wants to help!
2When you are boiling potatoes, cooking pasta, or boiling greens, salt the shit out of the water. Seriously. In my experience, the amount of salt the food absorbs is relatively independent of the salinity of the water, I think because it can only absorb salt so fast regardless of the concentration. Too little salt and your food will be underflavored. Too much salt, and... well, you can't really put in too much salt. I guess if you made like a brine or something, that might be too much salt. But don't worry about it. Put in what you think is enough salt, then put in some more just to be safe. You'll be glad you did.


To give credit where credit is due, I get the proportions I use for mashed potatoes from Alice Waters' book The Art of Simple Food.

As the main course, we had barbecue-flavored pan-seared chicken thighs. This is a recipe Mariah came up with. It's nothing fancy, but doing it this way will give you very tender flavorful chicken.

Pan-seared barbecue chicken thighs
  • 1 lb. boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • your favorite barbecue sauce
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper
Place chicken in shallow dish or bowl. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper, then coat with barbecue sauce. Let sit 15 minutes to an hour (if longer than 20 minutes or so, put it in the fridge).

Mmm, this chicken looks done.
Thoroughly heat heavy skillet3 over medium-high heat. Add olive oil, then chicken. Cook until barbecue sauce starts to carmelize, about 3-5 minutes, then turn over and repeat process on the other side. The FDA would like you to use a meat thermometer to verify that the internal temperature of the chicken is at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. The nice thing about this recipe, though, is that in my experience, when it looks done on the outside, it's just right on the inside. Alternatively, cut into one piece and check it.

3I use a cast-iron skillet for this, but be warned: It makes quite a mess, and I am pretty sure that the tomato and other acids in the barbecue sauce is bad for your cast-iron unless it is really well-seasoned. If you have a ceramic-coated cast-iron skillet, that's probably ideal.

Update: My wife has pointed out the the chicken thighs we buy are the organic free-range boneless skinless thighs from Wegmans, which may be somewhat smaller than conventional chicken thighs. My comment about "when it looks done, it is done" only applies if your chicken thighs are the same size as the ones I buy... so be warned.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

ZOMGitsCriss tells it like it is

From the only atheist who is almost as sexy as my wife comes a heartfelt and heartbreaking rant about the Argument from Personal Experience. I thought it was worth posting because of it's relevance to a heavily-commented recent post of mine.



Via Lynna via a comment on PZ's.

Onward, Ninja Horde!

I had a previous post briefly mentioning how awesome this guy is, but since I'm suddenly getting a lot of hits, I wanted to bubble it up to the top. Seriously, that guy deserves it more than me. That is the funniest shit I have heard in a long time.

One more time in case you missed it: Your Religion is False is an awesome blog.

My opinion on Accomodationgate

Here I am getting all of this traffic from PZ's site as a result of a discussion about the faithiest controversy/Mooneybaum incident/Accomodationgate, and I don't even have a single post about it on my blog. Okay, time to fix that.

I've offered my opinion in the comments on various blogs, so I'll just resummarize it here -- this time with pictures!

On the issue itself, I fall in the so-called "New Atheist" camp, in the sense that I do not think religion and science are compatible1, and I don't think there is some sort of social responsibility and/or critical pragmatic imperative that ought to prevent me from saying so. Others have expounded on this position at great lengths, so I won't bother to rehash any of that.

Perhaps the more unique take I have on it is that I think that, strategically, it is important that we have both "New Atheists" and accomodationists -- and maybe even desirable that the accomodationists distance themselves from us, though certainly not as loudly or as shrilly as Mooneybaum feel compelled to do.

Modern atheists often draw an analogy to the gay rights movement, and while we certainly do not face the level of discrimination that gay people did and still do (the state of NY has never barred Atheist Marriage, AFAIK...), I think there are a number of areas where the analogy is apt. Certainly the Out Campaign is an idea I support, as you can see a few hundred pixels to your right.

This is Dawkins and PZ...
Another place where I think the analogy is apt is the answer to the question, What kind of people are necessary to enact social change? Riddle me this: In the case of the gay rights movement, which archetype is more responsible for the progress over the past decades? Is it the guy marching in the Pride parade wearing almost nothing except a few bits of leather, at all times being unashamedly himself? Or is it the nice quiet lesbian couple that lives next door, where your mom didn't even realize they were gay until you pointed it out to her?

...and this is Mooney and Kirshenbaum. Dunno who the kid is...
Answer: Both. Social change is not possible without "loud and proud" elements -- whether they be gay or atheist -- to push the boundaries of what is acceptable. To coin a phrase, "We're here, we're godless, get used to it." At the same time social change is not possible without people who are so moderate that the other side can't even really find anything about them to criticize. The same way your conservative mother might say, "Patty and Selma are gay? But they act so normal! Huh, I guess it's not true that all gay people are evil," we should hope that a young fundie might say, "Chris Mooney is an atheist? But he is so holier-than-thou!" Oh wait, that didn't come out right, but you get my point...

So, even though I disagree with the NCSE's position on accomodationism, I am secretly glad that they do it. It probably is strategically desirable, but only if at the same time you have us vocal atheists saying, "Uh, no that's not quite right." If the accomodationist position were the only active one, it would be a strategic dud, because the other side would always be paddling harder.

I think the accomodationists and the "New Atheists" actually compliment each other quite well. As entertaining as this little blogowar is (and now you can buy the book! When is the movie coming out, Mooney?), I really hope it just kinda quietly goes away. It doesn't do anybody any favors. Well, except me, because I indirectly managed to get a lot of blog hits from it, but I don't think that was Mooney's or Coyne's original intention...

1That is, I think religion as most people understand it is logically contradictory to science -- not that a reasonable person couldn't believe both... I think I'm a reasonable person, and I believe a number of irrational things, e.g. that my wife and I were meant to be together, that my son is the smartest four-month-old on the planet, that anybody will still be interested in my blog after next week... The differences are 1) I know these beliefs are irrational, 2) I don't try to convince anybody else of my own personal irrationalities, and 3) I don't pretend they are compatible with a scientific worldview, so that if it eventually becomes undesirable or dangerous to continue to hold these irrational beliefs I will have no trouble discarding them. In fact, if theists would apply those three criteria to their beliefs, I don't think there'd be much of a role for the so-called "New Atheists", because what would we have to complain about?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Mormonism's central tenet: If you believe it's true, then you will believe it's true

So I was raised Latter-Day Saint, and I haven't blogged about that at all yet. I guess now is as good a time as ever.

Something that has always bothered me is the passage in the Book of Mormon that is always presented to potential new members (the church refers to them as "investigators") as a litmus test they can use to determine whether the things they are being told are true or not. The passage reads as follows:

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
---Moroni 10:4


Okaaaaay.... so let me get this straight: I should ask the voice in my head whether these things are true or not, and if I approach the question already having faith in the teachings, with a real intent to have the voice in my head tell me it's true, and with a sincere heart hoping for it to be true.... then the voice in my head might tell me it's true? Shocking!

I'm pretty sure that if you try hard enough to believe in anything, you can make yourself believe it. This is not exactly an earth-shattering observation. And yet, it's supposed to be one of the most convincing "proofs" of the validity of the Book of Mormon.

If the BoM had been written a century later, this verse probably would have recommended clapping your hands too.

Oh noes! I have awoken the sleeping cephalopod!

Well now I've gone and done it. Chris Mooney tried to warn the blogosphere, but did I listen? Nope. It turns out PZ Myers is just as dangerous as the accomodationists say he is. You must tiptoe very quietly around him, lest you awaken a sleeping horde of ninjas trained in the ancient art of blog-commenting.

That's right: I totally got linked to from a Popular Blog. So now all I have to do is click on "Monetize" and I can quit my day job, right?

Oh my God, it's HIIIIIITTTTS!!!!!


Oh wait... maybe there is a downside to this: Now I have to try and write something clever. Damn you PZ!!!

Don't Waste Your Cancer!

I stumbled across this little gem while poking around at old posts over at Your Religion Is False. A few choice selections from their list about ways in which people "waste" their cancer:
  • You will waste your cancer if you do not believe it is designed for you by God.
  • You will waste your cancer if you believe it is a curse and not a gift.
  • You will waste your cancer if you seek comfort from your odds rather than from God.
  • You will waste your cancer if you think that “beating” cancer means staying alive rather than cherishing Christ.
  • You will waste your cancer if you fail to use it as a means of witness to the truth and glory of Christ.
Wow. Now, mixed in with that shockingly offensive bullshit are a couple of good pieces of advice (e.g. "You will waste your cancer if you let it drive you into solitude instead of deepen your relationships with manifest affection" -- it's a little fucked up to use this whole you will waste your cancer phraseology, but certainly the basic point is a valid one). So I don't want to say that people don't probably find solace from stuff like this.

But I have to say, comments like "You will waste your cancer if you think that 'beating' cancer means staying alive" are goddamned insulting. Cancer is not a gift, okay? And if it is, I'm never ever ever ever inviting Jesus to another one of my birthday parties, unless he promises not to bring a present.

"Everybody must like the same things I do, or else they are a pathetic bitter individual!"

I read a post over at ScienceBlogs today by this math guy who works at Google talking about why he won't be going to his high school reunion. In short, he had no friends in his graduating class (all of his friends were one or two years younger or older than him) and had probably about the worst high school experience I've ever heard of, including a dude breaking his finger for fun, and another asshole using gasoline to paint a swastika in the street in front of his house and lighting it on fire. WTF?!

So yeah, seems pretty straightforward that he wouldn't want to go to his high school reunion, right? Even if the criminal bullying hadn't occurred, why would you want to hang out with people you were never friends with in the first place?

Except if you read the comments, there are a whole bunch of douchebags saying that guy must be "bitter" and that he needs to learn to "forgive".

Excuse me?

Look, forgiveness is a good thing, but if you forgive someone who wronged you that doesn't mean they are now automatically your friend, especially if they were never your friend to begin with.

I didn't have nearly as bad a time in high school as this guy, but it's not a time I remember fondly and I really have no desire to go to any of my reunions. Why would I? It's not a time in my life that I wish to celebrate or revisit. That just happens to be my personal choice. I understand that other people had a great time in high school, and that's fine, they should celebrate it! But not everybody has to like everything. And if somebody happens to hate something that you are fond of, you need to learn to deal with it.

For me, I wouldn't miss the Autumn Festival of Ales that Custom Brewcrafters holds out in Honeoye Falls. It's always a great time.

Now let's say some other blogger is a recovering alcoholic or maybe they just hate the taste of beer. And they happen to write a blog post about how they won't be going to the Festival of Ales. Would I show up in their comment section and accuse them of being bitter? Say that, for their own good, they had to find a way to forgive beer for tasting so bad to them?

No, that would be retarded. And so are the people showing up on MarkCC's blog and saying the same things about him.

Pizzas everywhere!

Mariah's 30th birthday party was last Saturday. It was a great time! We had a keg, first time I've ever done that, our patented "booze piñata"1, and six pizzas. We didn't have time to make our own dough, so we cheaped out and used Boboli crusts. Oh, and it was just storebought marinara sauce. But we got all kinds of compliments on them.

My favorite was a six- or seven-pepper pizza (I lost count!) that Mariah dreamed up. Bell peppers, jalapeños, Thai chile peppers, Hungarian peppers, serrano peppers, Fresno peppers, and I think one other type that I didn't recognize. I thought it would be way too spicy, and while it was definitely "hot", it was not at all inedible. Awesome!

We did two pizzas with fig, prosciutto, goat cheese, and blue cheese. This is one of Mariah's favorite flavor combinations: fig combined with bacon or prosciutto, with a strong-flavored cheese. It's just amazing.

Another popular one was spinach, white mushrooms, portabella mushrooms, and onions. We tried a classic Margherita pizza (garlic and olive oil base with sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzerella, and fresh basil) with the added twist of using heirloom tomatoes instead of plum tomatoes. It was tasty, but I think I sliced the tomatoes too thick and they released a lot of water which prevented the crust from cooking up. If I do a Margherita pizza again, I'll probably precook the tomatoes.

I had one leftover crust and a bunch of leftover mushrooms, bell peppers, and prosciutto, so I just through that all together for the last one.

All in all, it was a great, very tasty meal, it fed probably 20 people, and it was pretty cheap all things considered. The biggest expense was the crusts, and if we made our own we could have virtually eliminated that. We will definitely be doing pizza night again!

1Yeah, "booze piñata." This is the third time we've done it. We fill a pinata with the usual candy and confetti and such, but also put in a couple dozen airplane bottles of liquor. It always takes the party to another level after that...

Oh, and sorry there are no pictures. I was too depressed about Stash to really think about that. I think I was a bit of a downer at the party, but hopefully not too awful...

Yet another tragic wrist injury

The Pope suffered a broken wrist last night while in his chalet in northern Italy. In addition to the theological questions this raises (Does papal infallibility apply to the Pope's sense of balance? And if so, does that mean that His Holiness fell on purpose?), I couldn't help but notice that this once again validates Stephen Colbert's campaign to raise awareness of wrist injuries.


Stay strong, Stephen!

Friday, July 10, 2009

My New Favorite Blog

This guy is funny as shit.

Abstract Horror becomes Actual

I've had a ridiculously easy, tragedy-free life, all things considered. Believe it or not, I have made it to thirty without having to really deal with death at all. My paternal grandparents were dead before I was born. My maternal grandmother passed away when I was just a bit too young for it to have the full effect -- I was old enough to know what death meant, but not old enough that I can now recall much about how it felt... I remember a few snapshots, particularly my mother coming in the door having return from the hospital and croaking out, "She died," and that as soon as she said it I felt my ears burning.. but very little else is concrete. And my maternal grandfather faded so slowly, the grief of his actual death was mild.

I've had a handful of acquaintances who I later found out had died, but nobody I knew really at the time of their death. The exception is Mariah's aunt Vicki, who died last year of terminal cancer... but the first time I met her was the day she was diagnosed, so in a way I was prepared for her death from the start.

So I guess that's why I'm being such a big baby about Stash dying. She's just a cat, sure, but it is the first time I have had to fully deal with the unexpected death of someone/something I loved.

There is also another component, though, that makes this difficult, and that is what I referred to in the title to this post. I am someone who prides myself on "knowing a little bit about a whole lot of stuff." Heh, I guess that's why I was big into working on Wikipedia for a while... and I still just randomly surf around, absorbing a breadth of information.

Moreover, I have a few morbid fascinations with things like air disasters, engineering disasters in general, the mechanisms of disease, etc. To generalize, it's an interest in science-meets-death I guess. I don't know exactly why... maybe I'll explore that in another post.

In any case, the point I am making is that I have all this abstract knowledge of horror, but no concrete knowledge of horror, having had as I mentioned previously a remarkably tragedy-free life so far.

Holding Stash as she died... feeling for the first time what it felt like to hold a warm and still barely living body that nonetheless was like dead weight, like a warm furry sack of organs more than a being... experiencing directly for the first time the slowed pulse rate and cold body temperature of a mammal in shock... seeing her lose control of her bowels and of her swallow reflex, shitting and drooling, suddenly focusing my abstract knowledge of the indignities of death into something real and concrete...

Well, it was just a cat, but I feel as though every terrible thing that I understood in the abstract is now firmly in the realm of the possible. No, strike that, I think even before I was able to perceive the terrible as a possibility, but now, irrationally, all the abstract horror seems not just possible but inevitable -- which, in a sense, it surely is.

To put this another way... what is so jolting about the suddenness of Stash's death is not that it seemed surreal. On the contrary, it felt at the time to be almost hyper-real. It was life in high-def. It was everything you knew was there all along, but now you could actually see it.

I think I am quickly coming to terms with the particular emotions of the loss of Stash. But even as the pain of losing a pet fades, I'm experiencing a profound lack of hope for the future. In any given proposition, the worst possible outcome now seems all too real, almost likely.

I'm sure I'll get over that soon too, but right now it's a little fucked up.

One of the Lucky Ones



One of the hardest things about Stash dying was how sudden and mysterious it was. I think about that she was eight years old, not that old for a cat, she could have easily lived twice that long. It's hard to keep it in perspective and remember to appreciate the years she had, when I can quite reasonably say that she could have had just as many all over again, if "whatever" poisoned her hadn't come along.

But yes, let's have some perspective. Eight years or sixteen years, it's not even a blink in the history of life on Earth. Uncountable trillions of possible cats were never even born, and yet I was astronomically lucky to be able to spend just a little time with this one astronomically lucky cat. One blink of an eye or two, the important thing is that she lived at all, and that she was with a family who loved her, and that I got to know her.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

She's Gone.

Get Well Kitty

I'm in the waiting room of Emergency Animal Service right now. Mariah found Stash lying in the office, with poop nearby and more coming out of her, covered with dust and limp. She was almost like dead weight when carrying her and she was drooling. She felt cold and I estimated her pulse was half what it should be. (It's actually less than half - 60 vs. 160 - and she is almost 10 degrees too cold)

They are giving her fluids and have her under a warming blanket to
stabilize her. They are also running some tests. I am probably throwing away money I don't really have to spend...but Stash was my first real pet, and such a special kitty.

I don't think she is going to make it. I don't mean to be pessimistic, but she seemed almost dead. I thought it might be some kind of poison; the vet said that is possible, or maybe acute renal failure. I don't know...

Mariah took Quinn back home while she secures the homefront (we left in rather a hurry) so I am just sitting here waiting for results.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Rain of Spit

A journalist talks about trying to cover a protest, when the protesters turned on her:

I found myself herded against a brick wall as they kept on spitting - on my face, my hair, my clothes, my arms.

It was like rain, coming at me from all directions - hitting my recorder, my bag, my shoes, even my glasses.

Big gobs of spit landed on me like heavy raindrops. I could even smell it as it fell on my face.

Somewhere behind me - I didn't see him - a man on a stairway either kicked me in the head or knocked something heavy against me.


What kind of people would do such a thing? What kind of organization would draw so many gutless thugs into the same place?

Orthodox Jews. Yeah, religion makes people good, sure, whatever...

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Another Big Pharma Conspiracy!

Jenny McCarthy sez: "Big Pharma is run by Zombie Hitler!"
This time, those evil cretins that run the pharmaceutical companies have gone too far... they have gotten a hold of the measles virus and secretly injected it into a bunch of unvaccinated kids in Brooklyn, in a futile attempt to discredit the courageous anti-vaccine movement!

Oh wait, sorry I think my brain must have been temporarily scrambled by oh-noes-teh-toxinz! What really happened is that a whole bunch of very stoopid famous people (of which Jenny McCarthy is public enemy number one) have managed to terrify parents into forgoing vaccinations -- all while accusing the other side of using fear as a lever -- resulting in a dropping compliance rate, weakened herd immunity, and now there is an outbreak of measles in Brooklyn. It is no coincidence that most of the kids who have contracted the disease are unvaccinated.

Jenny McCarthy sez: "Those kids got the measles because their mothers weren't pretty enough!"
Now, probably none of these kids are going to die. We don't know that for certain, of course, and their odds of dying from measles are much higher than their odds of having serious side effects from a vaccine... but this is a relatively small outbreak. This could be the tip of the iceberg if compliance rates don't come back up.

Good job, Jenny McCarthy.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Either really good news, or really bad news

Sarah Palin has resigned. Whether this is good news or bad news depends on what her reasons were:

Some have speculated that Mrs Palin, who is popular with the Republican Party base, might be preparing to make a bid for the White House in 2012.

But a report on NBC news suggested that Mrs Palin intends to get "out of politics for good".

(from BBC News)

Hmmm... The scary thing is, she just might have a shot at beating Obama, depending on how the next three years go. Obama has been a bit of a disappointment so far to those hoping for rapid reform and an unequivocal repudiation of the Bush era policies. On the other side of the aisle, the conservative base is in complete Make Shit Up mode, and you know some old ladies are going to fall for it. ("That scary black man in the White House doesn't even have an American birth certificate!" You know, even though he does...) Anyway, a Palin presidency is one of those things that just might make me start thinking "aboot" moving North a few dozen miles, "eh?"

Even just having Palin run in 2012 would be bad for the country, in my opinion. She is the epitome of the modern demagogue, parroting factless talking points designed to rile the ignorant and the prejudiced, while relying on her good looks to capture the loyalty of the conservatives who don't fit those categories.

Far worse, though, was her habit at rallies of implicitly encouraging cries of "Obama's a terrorist" and "Off with his head!" with a wink and a nod and a "You betcha!" I have heard some suggest a connection between this kind of subtle endorsement of violence by conservatives, and the recent shootings of Dr. George Tiller and at the Holocaust Museum. I think that's a little over the top, but certainly this sort of thing has got to have a powerful negative effect on both the level of political discourse and on our culture as a whole.

So let's really hope we're not looking at a Palin 2012 ticket. Even if she loses, that would be bad for everybody.