Seriously. This game is frikkin' awesome. Play it. Now.
Friday, July 31, 2009
Seriously. This game is frikkin' awesome. Play it. Now.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
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.
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.
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.
...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
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!"
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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).
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
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
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...
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.)
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
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.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
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.
Fucking Internet Explorer... WTF... Anyway, the blog may be unstable for the next little while as I try to fix this. Goddamn it..
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.
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.
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?
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
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?
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.
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.
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...
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
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.
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.
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.....
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
Via Lynna via a comment on PZ's.
One more time in case you missed it: Your Religion is False is an awesome blog.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 wait... maybe there is a downside to this: Now I have to try and write something clever. Damn you PZ!!!
- 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.
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.
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".
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.
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...
Stay strong, Stephen!
Friday, July 10, 2009
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 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
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
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
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.
Good job, Jenny McCarthy.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
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.