Monday, August 29, 2011

Skepticism without cynicism: It's a win-win

This morning as I was getting out of the shower, my wife reported that our two-year-old had said something rather, uh, disturbing: "Grandpa fell down! Grandpa fell down! Now he's sleeping..." Given that my parents are both over 70, Grandpa one day suddenly "falling down" and "sleeping" is unfortunately a fear that seems all too real. I said, "Lucky thing we're skeptics, otherwise that could be pretty scary!"

Later, my wife figured it out: The other day she had sung the "old man is snoring" song, but replaced "old man" with "grandpa". In other words...

It's raining, it's pouring, grandpa is snoring
Bumped his head on the bed, now he can't get up in the morning

Okay, now it's not so mysterious as to how our toddler got an image of grandpa falling down and sleeping, is it?

But here's why skepticism is a win-win: Since meaning is something humans invent, I can take whatever personal meaning from this I want to. My folks haven't gotten to see the boys in a few weeks, and I really ought to set up a time for us to get together. I managed to avoid the ominous fear that a more credulous person might have felt, but I also get a useful reminder to keep in touch with family. Huzzah!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

In which I try really hard to avoid common ground with Ophelia Benson

Over at Butterflies and Wheels, Ophelia Benson issued a challenge to have a "nuanced dialog" about whether sexist epithets are acceptable. It seems other candidates either refused to use their real name, or else had other issues complicating the debate, so I have volunteered to take up the other side.

This is going to be challenging since unfortunately I'm basically on the same page with Benson. But I feel there are just enough differences in where we stand that if I focus on those aspects, we may be able to get something going here. Maybe. Already at least one commenter has noticed we don't hardly disagree. But hey, it's a challenge, right?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

I win an argument with Dan Cooper!

I won't bore anyone with the details, but I just totally whupped Dan Cooper (yes, that Dan Cooper) in an argument on Google+. After I said that he had earlier indicated there was no gender discrepancy in earnings, Cooper said:

Prove to me that I said what you say I said.

A fair request. I obliged, in detail, although I did have to admit he only implied the salary gap was a thing of the past, rather than stating it explicitly. I must have really hit the mark, though, because his sole reply was:

You're totally castrated. Very sad. And you think men run things? You are ruled by women.

Awesome. Not even a "you're wrong" or "I didn't imply anything" or even an "I don't have time for this." I prove he contradicted himself, and he responds by saying I have no dick. Never have I won an intertubes debate in such spectacular fashion. Full of win!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Why is oxygen the third most common element in the universe?

So it appears from several sources that the three most common elements in the universe are, in order, hydrogen, helium, and oxygen.

The first two make perfect sense to me. Hydrogen especially -- it's basically just a stray proton, right? Most of them have an electron buddy, of course, but it's not hard to see how that could happen. And then helium is two protons fused together, and as far as I understand it requires the lowest amount of energy to fuse. So that makes sense. You've got a universe full of stray protons (your most common element) and when they start to clump together producing heat and pressure, you fuse pairs of them together and get your second most common element.

But whence oxygen? It's #8 in the periodic table. My simple-minded imagination would have thought the order of frequency of elements would have been roughly the same as their atomic number, allowing some idiosyncracies for what's more stable, etc. And if it weren't, I would have expected the next most common to be maybe a noble gas, or just generally something with a distinct position in the periodic table. I can't see anything special about oxygen...

I'm assuming it has to do with some idiosyncrasy of stellar evolution. Can anybody help me out here?