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22 December 2012

Still Here!

Okay, by now it's the 22nd over most of the world, and nothing special happened.  This should come as no surprise to most people, but there were a few idiots and knuckleheads that did buy into it.  We all pretty much just laughed at them.

However, what makes your apocalyptic story any different?  (I use "your" in a collective sense of humanity, not any one person in particular that may be reading this.)  As I mentioned a couple years ago:
My issue is not really religion but irrational thought and belief without evidence. Religion is just the most evident, and for some reason respected, irrational belief system on the planet. If you really analyze religion, it's all about accepting the unprovable and non-existent as a matter of course.  You would readily scoff at someone who worshiped a giant flying space pickle, so why is your particularly strange deity immune from that rational examination? Have you examined homeopathy, power balance bracelets, new age, alchemy, astrology, tarot card reading, ghosts, UFOs, paranormal, mind-reading, tea leaf reading, remote viewing, spirit guides, bigfoot, etc. and made conclusions about those things? Why not examine the rest of things you "know" in the same way?
So let's check out apocalypse.  No matter what christians may proclaim, their religion is a death cult.  Just read the drug induced last chapter of their holy book.  It's bat-shit insane doomsday prophesies.  And for some reason, we're supposed to take that crap seriously?  Even considering the fact that they have been harping on about their doomsday for centuries, and have been wrong on every single one of their predictionsSeriously, they should be embarrassed at this point, yet they still cling to their very own apocalypse.  Which is what I find so fascinating about it.  So many christians scoffed at the 2012 nuttery.  They even scoff at the flavours of christianity that don't match up with their interpretation (or what their clergy tells them is their flavour).  Yet, they still think there is some truth in their book of fables, even though it contains one of the most disturbing and downright silly apocalypse predictions ever.

Is it any wonder that I really can't respect the intellectual integrity of someone who is religious.  Sure, they are compartmentalizing, and all those other lame excuses people put forth when you see someone who would normally be considered intelligent embrace a philosophy based on bronze aged myths, and believes in a totally unsupportable and indefensible position.  Why do we cut them so much slack?

11 November 2012

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a Skeptic Presentation at Yankee Skeptic!

I recently gave a presentation at the SkeptiCamp hosted by Granite State Skeptics (Dale Roy in particular), and I wrote it up for Kitty of Yankee Skeptic.  Instead of repeating what she wrote, here is a link to her site where you can read the presentation.  Enjoy.

06 October 2012

Distrust of Science. A conservative position? Why I can't vote for these GOP retards...

So I just saw this quote from someone who is as disconnected from reality as anyone can be:
"All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior. You see, there are a lot of scientific data that I’ve found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth. I don’t believe that the Earth’s but about 9,000 years old. I believe it was created in six days as we know them. That’s what the Bible says."
Now normally someone having these thoughts wouldn't be a problem...  This person is Representative Paul Broun (R-GA), who is a member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.  Yeah, you read that right.  This guy basically throws EVERYTHING we know about science, and throws it out the window to protect a bunch of bronze age fables.  Sorry, this is beyond retarded.  If anyone is interested in keeping the US as a technologically advanced nation, you need to vote out these fucking retards.  And yes, saying bullshit like that is a self inflicted mental retardation.

So why do these idiots say shit like this?  There has been a lot of speculation about that.  I will present you with a couple.  There is this scientific paper that states in it's abstract (PDF):
This study explores time trends in public trust in science in the United States from 1974 to 2010. More precisely, I test Mooney’s (2005) claim that conservatives in the United States have become increasingly distrustful of science. Using data from the 1974 to 2010 General Social Survey, I examine group differences in trust in science and group-specific change in these attitudes over time. Results show that group differences in trust in science are largely stable over the period, except for respondents identifying as conservative. Conservatives began the period with the highest trust in science, relative to liberals and moderates, and ended the period with the lowest. The patterns for science are also unique when compared to public trust in other secular institutions. Results show enduring differences in trust in science by social class, ethnicity, gender, church attendance, and region. I explore the implications of these findings, specifically, the potential for political divisions to emerge over the cultural authority of science and the social role of experts in the formation of public policy.
Which seems to agree with what we are seeing now, and is also the subject of this book.  And while it is a politically charged book perhaps, I think we all have seen the war waged in the past few decades.  Again, if these folks want to follow their bronze age fables, I suggest they only have access to bronze age science!  They seem to disdain that which we have worked so hard for.  Which is why as long as they take their fables as truth over reality not a single one of those fuckers will ever get my vote.  I'll vote for third party candidates before they get my vote.  I suggest you do the same.

21 September 2012

Fuck you GOP. Just fuck you!

I present this without comment...  I don't think I can really say anything that hasn't already been said, but this just disgusts me beyond reason.  Motherfucking assholes need to get their asses beat all the way out of Washington...

Vet jobs bill fails in Senate; caught in Hill battle

Legislation to put veterans to work preserving and restoring national parks and other federal, state and local lands was defeated Wednesday afternoon when Senate Republicans successfully blocked the bill’s advance with a budgetary point of order. 


02 September 2012

GOP Oblivious to their Fucktardery

The idiots in the GOP are up to their fucktardery again... The worst part is that they can't even tell the irony of their position, even when directly confronted with the madness of their position. First I'll let the Daily Show present it to you (keep in mind, I am not a fan of Samantha Bee, but in this case, she does a great job).
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My apologies to folks outside the US that can't see this video.

I already wrote a way back about the idiotic idea of personhood... After all, gawd loves abortions (considering how often he causes them if you're of the mindset that imaginary things cause natural events).

I know that as long as the GOP maintains their anti-reality stance, theocratic bent, and plutocratic direction, they will never get my vote.  I have a daughter, and I prefer that when she grows up, she have control of her own reproductive rights instead of some rich, old white guy dictating how she can treat her body.  Also, their theocratic outlook is absolutely repugnant to me.  Between the First Amendment and Article VI of the Constitution, you'd think they get it, but apparently, they are as oblivious about the Constitution as they are about their statements in the video above (or the bible they cling to yet seem never to have read...).

And I also have to say that the GOP seems to have the entirely wrong idea about the Bill of Rights.  It's a bill of rights, not a bill of restrict rights.  I don't think they would like their legacy to be like the 18th Amendment. 

01 September 2012

Politicians Have Forgotten Their Job!

The job of a politician (in general) should be:

"Represent their constituents within the confines of the Constitution."

You ask any politician what their job is, and they will insist that this is exactly what they are doing, but I contend that they are NOT.

First of all, they fail in representing their constituents.  If you observe their behaviour, you can tell that they are not representing their constituents.  They are only representing the people who actually voted for them.  In my opinion, they are being stupid in adhering to their rabid partisan ways.  Of course, the GOP has an over abundance of stupidity in their adherence to non-negotiable ideological positions.    If you actually try to represent the entire population as opposed to some loudmouthed redneck extremists, you may actually gather more votes as you run for re-election.  Of course, the politicians are too interested in pandering to the most extreme positions of their "base".  This hyper-partisan environment is doing nothing but freezing up anything from happening.  If you look at this particular congress, I bet you could easily imagine them passing a resolution opposing President Obama if he declared kittens as cute.

Secondly, and this is particularly against the GOP, they are absolutely not following the Constitution.  To most politicians, they think their job is to impose their views on the populous, without regard to the anti-establishment clause of the First Amendment.  They think that because they believe it, it's okay to impose their view, despite the freedom of religion for all citizens, even if it's not christianity.  The most important thing to remember is that freedom of religion, if it is going to apply to everyone, also requires freedom from religion. Why is that? You do not truly have the freedom to practice your religious beliefs if you are also required to adhere to any of the religious beliefs or rules of other religions.

As an obvious example, could we really say that Jews and Muslims would have freedom of religion if they were required to show same respect to images of Jesus that Christians have? Would Christians and Muslims really have freedom of their religion if they were required to wear yarmulkes? Would Christians and Jews have freedom of religion if they were required to adhere to Muslim dietary restrictions?

Simply pointing out that people have the freedom to pray however they wish is not enough. Forcing people to accept some particular idea or adhere to behavioral standards from someone else’s religion means that their religious freedom is being infringed upon.

Freedom from religion does not mean, as some mistakenly seem to claim, being free from seeing religion in society. No one has the right not to see churches, religious expression, and other examples of religious belief in our nation — and those who advocate freedom of religion do not claim otherwise.

What freedom from religion does mean, however, is the freedom from the rules and dogmas of other people’s religious beliefs so that we can be free to follow the demands of our own conscience, whether they take a religious form or not. Thus, we have both freedom of religion and freedom from religion because they are two sides of the same coin.

Interestingly, the misunderstandings here can be found in many other myths, misconceptions and misunderstandings as well. Many people don’t realize — or don’t care — that real religious liberty must exist for everyone, not just for themselves. It’s no coincidence that people who object to the principle of “freedom from religion” are adherents of religious groups whose doctrines or standards would be the ones enforced by the state.

Since they already voluntarily accept these doctrines or standards, they don’t expect to experience any conflicts with state enforcement or endorsement. What we have, then, is a failure of moral imagination: these people are unable to really imagine themselves in the shoes of religious minorities who don’t voluntarily accept these doctrines or standards and, hence, experience an infringement on their religious liberties through state enforcement or endorsement.

That, or they simply don’t care what religious minorities experience because they think they have the One True Religion. And maybe that's their point?

18 August 2012

The GOP acting like fascists?

I spent 20 years of my life defending the Constitution, from all enemies, foreign and domestic.  One of the key things about our democracy is that it should apply to all citizens, even if you don't agree with them.  That's why I am totally disgusted by these voter ID laws.  They are willing to sacrifice the rights of hundreds of thousands (up to a million even) of the citizenry for basically a non-existent problem.

Someone may accuse me of hyperbole by accusing the GOP of being fascist, however if you look at the hallmarks of fascism throughout history, you gotta give the GOP credit.  Historically, fascist organizations are driven by a plutocratic or theocratic philosophy where they want to impose their views, values, and ideals on a population regardless of the wishes of the rest of the population.  Somehow the GOP has managed to be plutocratic AND theocratic!  Quite the accomplishment.

The main reason for my ire towards the GOP is that they are about restricting human rights in all fashions.  For a group that claims to be about less government, they sure seem intent on getting the government into your bedroom, women's uteri, and suppressing people's Constitutional right to participate in our democracy.

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If you have any influence with these fascists, and yes, their behaviour deserves that label, please do what you can to further influence them to move away  from this course of action.  In Ohio, I was actually surprised to see that public embarrassment actually had an effect.  In general, these people are so insane in their beliefs that nothing manages to break through.  Sort of like creationists...  Which is actually quite a correlation...

P.S. Just so you know, I don't consider any political party innocent of wrongdoings, my particular exception is with the suppression of the people key to the democratic process.  A Constitutionally guaranteed right, that is being taken away because of a non-existent problem.

11 May 2012

Are you an atheist?

Apparently there is an "atheist census" out there.  I encourage other atheists out there to count their numbers if they are willing to put in their information.  Keep in mind that this site does track cookies, but if you have emails that are set up to handle spam (and who doesn't in this day and age), I think it's a worthwhile effort.

After all, atheists are become something of a movement that is to be contended with.  I think these two things go together in a way.  There are events that happen where it is quite clear that atheists are not marginalized, and should be counted.  Having a census of atheists with actual data should help.

Make yourself count.

22 April 2012

Welcome to science. You're gonna like it here

Dr. Plait posted a link to Tree Lobster's the other day (an excellent web comic I suggest you read), and in that post he linked to a very old post of his that I found particularly inspiring.  I just want to repeat it here for folks to read.  (Keep in mind, it was written in 2005, so the number of extra solar planets have now increased by a factor of 10.)  Again, I can't help but wonder why people have to turn to totally made up things in order to try to find a sense of wonder in the universe, when the universe provides so much more than even our imaginations can  provide.  There is no danger in knowing more.  However, ignorance can be incredibly costly.  Why not revel in the fact that our own cleverness has actually gotten us this far, and that it should get us further, instead of being bound by bronze age myths and a rejection of the thing that got us so far.  That is:  Science!

By the way, this speech by Dr. Plait was delivered to a group of students that were participating in a science fair.  I can only hope that other science fair students get such an inspiring message instead of being told that the pursuit of knowledge is wrong in some way.

I know a place where the Sun never sets.
It’s a mountain, and it’s on the Moon. It sticks up so high that even as the Moon spins, it’s in perpetual daylight. Radiation from the Sun pours down on there day and night, 24 hours a day — well, the Moon’s day is actually about 4 weeks long, so the sunlight pours down there 708 hours a day.

I know a place where the Sun never shines. It’s at the bottom of the ocean. A crack in the crust there exudes nasty chemicals and heats the water to the boiling point. This would kill a human instantly, but there are creatures there, bacteria, that thrive. They eat the sulfur from the vent, and excrete sulfuric acid.

I know a place where the temperature is 15 million degrees, and the pressure would crush you to a microscopic dot. That place is the core of the Sun.

I know a place where the magnetic fields would rip you apart, atom by atom: the surface of a neutron star, a magnetar.

I know a place where life began billions of years ago. That place is here, the Earth.

I know these places because I’m a scientist.

Science is a way of finding things out. It’s a way of testing what’s real. It’s what Richard Feynman called "A way of not fooling ourselves."

No astrologer ever predicted the existence of Uranus, Neptune, or Pluto. No modern astrologer had a clue about Sedna, a ball of ice half the size of Pluto that orbits even farther out. No astrologer predicted the more than 150 planets now known to orbit other suns.

But scientists did.

No psychic, despite their claims, has ever helped the police solve a crime. But forensic scientists have, all the time.

It wasn’t someone who practices homeopathy who found a cure for smallpox, or polio. Scientists did, medical scientists.

No creationist ever cracked the genetic code. Chemists did. Molecular biologists did.

They used physics. They used math. They used chemistry, biology, astronomy, engineering.
They used science.

These are all the things you discovered doing your projects. All the things that brought you here today.

Computers? Cell phones? Rockets to Saturn, probes to the ocean floor, PSP, gamecubes, gameboys, X-boxes? All by scientists.

Those places I talked about before? You can get to know them too. You can experience the wonder of seeing them for the first time, the thrill of discovery, the incredible, visceral feeling of doing something no one has ever done before, seen things no one has seen before, know something no one else has ever known.

No crystal balls, no tarot cards, no horoscopes. Just you, your brain, and your ability to think.

Welcome to science. You’re gonna like it here.

21 April 2012

Which Moon has the best chance for life?

I have a mancrush on Dr. Phil Plait.  That is a well known joke/fact.  He tackles a subject that my wife, daughter, and I were discussing just the other day (ain't coincidence fun?).  So I am just delighted to popularize this particular video of Bad Astronomy Q&A.
My money is more on Europa versus the other ones.  Enceladus in my opinion has a bit too unstable at the geyser sources.  As for Titan, the chemistry is a bit too unknown for the type of complexity and energy that would be conducive to life.  That said, I would like to see probes to all three (Europa, Titan, Enceladus in order of precedence).  Even if the chemistry of Titan doesn't support life, there is at least something to learn in that environment.

19 March 2012

Breaking News of a Geeky Variety

Dr. Phil Plait, all around great astronomer and ginger man about town, just informed the world about a developing supernova in the galaxy M95.  I suggest you read his article, because he does such a great job explaining it.  I do want to put the video up here as well though, just to make your stop here a multimedia encounter.

Before the video though, I must make one comment...  Isn't it pathetically sad that he has to reassure us that there is no danger from an object that is 35 million light years away?  Seriously, reminds me of the time that astronomers announced a great void in space that was 6-10 BILLION light years away, and the Faux Noise reporter looked at the video monitor with a combines expression of concern and confusion, and asked the astronomer if we were in danger from it.  The fact that the scientist didn't laugh at the reporter for their sheer stupidity can only be attributed to their state of shock at the abject stupidity of said reporter.  It's the only explanation that makes sense!

Anyway, here's a video to accompany the announcement of this supernova!

13 March 2012

Killer Argument for Evolution?

There is no such thing.

A subject as vast, complex, and diverse as biology will never have a single killer argument. To look for one would be a fool's errand, and to believe one would be the mark of a fool. A singular killer argument is the sign of a simple question. Something evolution most decidedly is not.

The fact that pretty much every discovery in Biology (especially genetics) has supported the argument for evolution should lend credence to the theory of evolution, and Darwin being right. There is no way a Victorian era gentleman would know about DNA to the level we do now, and yet he was so amazingly right about the things he wrote.  Yet, it takes an incredibly complex and in-depth understanding to really understand and see the significance.  Something that those who would deny evolution haven't the slightest clue on.

Anyway, just wanted to post this.  I also would like to bring your attention to Zack Kopplin and his efforts.  You all should support him.  And if you regret ably find yourself attempting to discuss evolution with a creationist, I suggest that you arm yourself with as much information as possible.  Facts, not Fantasy is one place you can go to start that process, but remember:
“Debating creationists on the topic of evolution is rather like trying to play chess with a pigeon; it knocks the pieces over, craps on the board, and flies back to its flock to claim victory.”
― Scott D. Weitzenhoffer

11 March 2012

Book Review: 50 Popular Beliefs That People Think Are True

I always like to find good books on skepticism, not because I particularly enjoy reading them, but because they are needed.  Guy Harrison's 50 Popular Beliefs That People Think Are True is a needed book in this day and age.  I won't go into details on each chapter in the book, but I will warn you that if you have a cherished woo belief, this book should cure you.  And yes, I said cure, because many of the beliefs Guy debunks are a disease.

Now, for a book of this size, there are perhaps some legitimate criticisms that he doesn't go enough into depth on these subjects.  However, he offers you a "Go Deeper" section so that you can get that depth you may need.

Also, there is a very topical 2012 chapter.  With the incorrect meme about leap days, and the general batshit crazy nuttery that will come about as more idiots get freaked out the closer the non-event day happens, you may actually save someone heartache if you can direct them to this book, and that chapter.

Guy also does a good job of being much more kind (in the same way Carl Sagan was) as opposed to my rather brash, and in your face style.  I think his style is well suited to any audience, to include younger readers.

One thing that I was unaware of is that Guy has an impressive list of books out there.  You may want to pick up a few of them when you visit Amazon.  I find that when you get to the end of a book on the Kindle, it also directs you to many of these books.

Remember, it's not so much about destroying someone's cherished woo beliefs, but rather saving them the heartache and embarrassment of holding those beliefs when they cause that individual harm.

09 March 2012

Today would have been my sister's 40th birthday

I just wanted to revisit a couple of posts that I made last fall about my sister.  In particular, talk about the education fund for her children, and repost the eulogy.  Today would have been her 40th birthday.  I miss her terribly.  The best I can do at this point though is to make sure that her children have a future in whatever small way I can, and to again share my thoughts on her passing.

The education fund information is as follows:  Send a check or money order to (these are 529 plans, so they may be tax deductible depending on your state):

USAA College Savings Plan
(Susan L. Carroll Memorial Fund)
P.O. Box 55354
Boston, MA.  02205-5354
1-800-531-8722 Extension 24992

If you have a U Promise account, you can link to these as well.  You will need to specify the accounts you want the funds to go into (or ask them to equally disburse the funds):
Cole:  505293251-01
Sommer:  505293251-02
Noelle:  505293251-03
Grace:  505293251-04

If you have questions or concerns, please call the phone number above, or you may contact me and I'll see what I can do to help.

Here is the full text of the eulogy as I wrote it:
As I look to each of you, I see my own sorrow in your eyes. Behind the tears that fall for my sister, Susan, I see great love and admiration. I know that Susan would be humbled to realize that you’ve taken time from your busy schedule to join in celebration of her life and on behalf of our family; thank you for the support that you’ve offered at this difficult time.

If anyone asked Susan what her finest legacy to the world is, she wouldn’t have hesitated to say, “my family”. She was the proud mother of Cole, Sommer, Noelle, and Grace, and I hope that each can remember that while they have lost a link to the past with Susan’s death; they will always be her hope for the future. Albert Einstein once said, “Our death is not an end if we can live on in our children and the younger generation.” I’m comforted by the fact that Susan will be revered, loved and remembered for decades yet to come.

My sister was an intelligent, funny, strong willed, determined and vivacious young woman. She was a skilled labor and delivery nurse and loved her job. She enjoyed running and biking and was, by her own admission, an open book. She loved to laugh (often) and was spontaneous and fierce. While she seemed strong as steel, the reality is that she was as fragile as crystal and it is this fragility that brings us here today.

It seemed that Susan had it all. She was at the top of her professional years and had many more years to live and many more lives to influence. Yet she faced internal demons none of us even knew of. Many of us feel a selfish guilt right now. We are not just wondering “why” but we are wondering “what”….What could we have done? In the end, as long as we were good and faithful friends to Susan, we did all that we could do. One of the glories of being human is that we get to make choices, and while I don’t agree with my sister’s choice to end her life; it is one she made, and in the end, my wish is that she has found the peace she was looking for.

I don’t think of my sister in the past tense because she is always going to be a part of my memories. I will always remember my younger sister as an inspiration and gift in my life and I am going to miss her more than words can say.

I don’t harbor anger or resentment towards Susan for her final act. She was ill and she did not get the help she needed. Maybe her self reliance and determination prevented her from admitting this illness to herself, thus disallowing necessary help.

Death is the final equalizer for all of us. For most, death comes naturally after a life of many decades. To some life is cut short through no specific plan of an individual through disease or accident. Sadly, others suffer from a misunderstood disease of mental illness and they lose perspective on life and irrationally end it for themselves.

There is so much we don’t know. We don’t know what led her to think that she had no other choice and we wonder at the despair that at last got out of hand and drove her towards her decision.

But…we are not here to hand out blame. Adlai Stevensen once said, “It is not the years in a life that counts; it is the life in the years.” I will be the first to tell you that Susan packed a lot of life in her years and it is that very life that we celebrate today.

An example of her determination, iron will, and the life she led. During the lobster festival in Maine, they have a lobster crate race. Susan tackled that race with her usual gusto. She had clearly won the race, but she kept going. Even after she set the record for that race, she kept going. Not satisfied with just breaking the record, she wanted to make that record her own. She kept going to the point of exhaustion and made that race her own personal property! That record stood for well over a decade. That is the type of person that I will always carry with me.

Moving into the future without Susan by our side will be odd. However, as long as one is remembered they are not truly dead, and if we carry memories of Susan in our heart, she will be with us always.

In her memory, I would like to read a poem written by Edwin Harkin of the UK, in 1981. I think Susan would have liked this:

You can shed tears that she is gone
or you can smile because she has lived.

You can close your eyes and pray that she’ll come back
or you can open your eyes and see all she’s left.

Your heart can be empty because you can’t see her
or you can be full of the love you shared.

You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.

You can remember her and only that she’s gone
or you can cherish her memory and let it live on.

You can cry and close your mind,
be empty and turn your back
or you can do what she’d want:
smile, open your eyes, love and go on.

Rest well, Susan. I miss you terribly.
Thanks for sharing with me again.

07 March 2012

So Much Better than any Creation Fable!

Forgive the music at the end, but Neil deGrasse Tyson does say it so well!  I am really looking forward to the Cosmos re-boot that he is doing with Ann Druyan and Seth McFarlane (yes, that Seth McFarlane).

And in honour of some of the sentiments in this video, and its connection to Cosmos, here are some quotes that I really like:

  • The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what's true. We have a method, and that method helps us to reach not absolute truth, only asymptotic approaches to the truth — never there, just closer and closer, always finding vast new oceans of undiscovered possibilities. Cleverly designed experiments are the key. - Carl Sagan, "Wonder and Skepticism", Skeptical Inquirer 19 (1), January-February 1995

It is sad that someone who probably didn't really know what she was posting got so much shit for this, isn't it?

04 March 2012

Critical Thinking Videos

Dr. Phil Plait, The Bad Astronomer, turned me on to these videos.  They are mostly aimed at children, but lets face it, a lot of American adults could use these videos as well.  Why do you think that I would disparage American adults?  Well, considering that apparently any education is "snobbery", I can only imagine the intellectually stunted brains that are out there.  I think Isaac Asimov said it better:
“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'” 
Anyway, here is the full series of videos that  I encourage you to watch and share with those who need it (and to make it easy, I will embed all 6 here for you).

I hope these come in handy for you or others around you.

01 March 2012

Everybody panic, WE'RE ABOUT TO DIE (or not)!

So I just saw this story on  Makes me wonder how long before all the nutters will go apeshit about this and proclaim that the end is near...  Now keep in mind, the impact that created the famous Meteor Crater in Arizona 50,000 years ago was only 150 feet or so in size, but it was made of nickle-iron.  We have no idea yet what 2011 AG5 is made of, even though it is about three times as big.  However, there is plenty of time, and we still have a lot to learn about it.

This movie has a brief summary of the asteroid (or you can read the whole article after the video):

Big Asteroid 2011 AG5 Could Pose Threat to Earth in 2040

Date: 27 February 2012 Time: 06:57 AM ET

An artist's illustration of asteroids, or near-Earth objects, that highlight the need for a complete Space Situational Awareness system.
An artist's illustration of asteroids, or near-Earth objects, that highlight the need for a complete Space Situational Awareness system.
CREDIT: ESA - P.Carril

Scientists are keeping a close eye on a big asteroid that may pose an impact threat to Earth in a few decades.

The space rock, which is called 2011 AG5, is about 460 feet (140 meters) wide. It may come close enough to Earth in 2040 that some researchers are calling for a discussion about how to deflect it.

Talk about the asteroid was on the agenda during the 49th session of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), held earlier this month in Vienna.

A UN Action Team on near-Earth objects (NEOs) noted the asteroid’s repeat approaches to Earth and the possibility — however remote — that 2011 AG5 might smack into our planet 28 years from now.

The object was discovered in January 2011 by Mount Lemmon Survey observers in Tucson, Ariz. While scientists have a good bead on the space rock's size, its mass and compositional makeup are unknown at present. [The 7 Strangest Asteroids in the Solar System]
Gravity Simulator image of 2011 AG5 passing the Earth-Moon system in February 2040. Earth is the blue dot, the moon’s orbit is gray, and 2011AG5 is green. Simulation created with JPL Horizons data.
Gravity Simulator image of 2011 AG5 passing the Earth-Moon system in February 2040. Earth is the blue dot, the moon’s orbit is gray, and 2011AG5 is green. Simulation created with JPL Horizons data.
CREDIT: Tony Dunn

An asteroid desktop exercise

"2011 AG5 is the object which currently has the highest chance of impacting the Earth … in 2040. However, we have only observed it for about half an orbit, thus the confidence in these calculations is still not very high," said Detlef Koschny of the European Space Agency’s Solar System Missions Division in Noordwijk, The Netherlands.

"In our Action Team 14 discussions, we thus concluded that it not necessarily can be called a ‘real’ threat. To do that, ideally, we should have at least one, if not two, full orbits observed," Koschny told

Koschny added that the Action Team did recommend to the NEO Working Group of COPUOS to use 2011 AG5 as a "desktop exercise" and link ongoing studies to the asteroid.

"We are currently also in the process of making institutions like the European Southern Observatory aware of this object," Koschny said. "We hope to make the point that this object deserves the allocation of some special telescope time."

Non-zero impact probability

The near-Earth asteroid 2011 AG5 currently has an impact probability of 1 in 625 for Feb. 5, 2040, said Donald Yeomans, head of the Near-Earth Object Observations Program at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

This impact probability isn't set in stone, however. So far, researchers have been able to watch the asteroid for just a short time — the first nine months of 2011 — and the numbers may change after further observation, Yeomans told [Photos: Asteroids in Deep Space]

"Fortunately, this object will be observable from the ground in the 2013-2016 interval," Yeomans said. In the very unlikely scenario that its impact probability does not significantly decrease after processing these additional observations, "there would be time to mount a deflection mission to alter its course before the 2023 keyhole," he added.

Keyholes are small regions in space near Earth through which a passing NEO's orbit may be perturbed due to gravitational effects, possibly placing it onto a path that would impact Earth.

Prudent course of action

2011 AG5 may zip through such a keyhole on its close approach to Earth in February 2023, which will bring the asteroid within 0.02 astronomical units (1.86 million miles, or 2.99 million kilometers) of Earth.

One astronomical unit is the average distance between Earth and sun, which is approximately 93 million miles (150 million km).

According to a JPL estimate, the 2023 keyhole — through which 2011 AG5 must pass in order for there to be a real chance of an Earth impact in 2040 – is roughly 62 miles (100 km) wide.

"Although this keyhole is considerably larger than the Apophis keyhole in 2029, it would still be a straightforward task to alter the asteroid’s trajectory enough to miss the keyhole – and hence the impact in 2040," Yeomans noted, referring to the asteroid Apophis, which could threaten Earth in 2036 if it zips through a keyhole in 2029.

"The prudent course of action is then to wait at least until the 2013 observations are processed before making any preliminary plans for a potential deflection mission," Yeomans said.

Processing additional observations in the 2013-2016 time period, he added, "will almost certainly see the impact probability for 2011 AG5 significantly decrease."

Wanted: Higher-fidelity assessment

"Yes, the object 2011 AG5 was much discussed at the AT 14 meetings last week, but perhaps prematurely," said Lindley Johnson, NASA’s NEO Observations Program Executive in Washington, D.C.

Johnson said NEO watchers have flagged the asteroid "as one we should keep an eye on." At present, he said, while researchers have better preliminary orbit data for 2011 AG5 than for many other asteroids in the NEO catalog, "we have only medium confidence in the derived orbital parameters."
"Fortunately, we are confident our uncertainties in the current orbit model will be reduced when we will have good observation opportunities in September 2013 with the larger follow-up assets," Johnson told Observing opportunities are even better, he added, starting in November 2015 and for several months thereafter.

"This, in turn, will enable us to better assess the likelihood of any ‘keyhole’ passage in 2023 and therefore a much higher fidelity assessment of any impact probability for the 2040 time frame," Johnson said. [5 Reasons to Care About Asteroids]

"So, rather than a need to immediately jump to space mission solutions, the situation with 2011 AG5 shows the value of finding potentially hazardous objects early enough so that there is time for a methodical approach of observation and assessment as input to any need for an expensive spacecraft mission," Johnson said. "A more robust survey capability would improve the data available to make such assessments."

Decision challenge

Long-time NEO specialist and former Apollo astronaut Russell Schweickart played an active role in the dialogue about 2011 AG5. He represented the Association of Space Explorers (ASE) Committee on Near Earth Objects and presented to the Action Team an analysis of the situation with 2011 AG5.
The space rock presents a "decision challenge" to the international community, Schweickart suggested, "in the unlikely chance that its current low, but significant probability of impacting Earth in 2040 continues to increase after additional tracking becomes available."

Schweickart spotlighted a rough Association of Space Explorers analysis of the options to deflect the asteroid in the future, in the unlikely scenario that the Earth impact probability continues to increase.
He also provided to the Action Team several new appraisals of options for deflection of asteroid 2011 AG5 to avoid a potentially dangerous Earth encounter in 2040.
The key moment of the Don Quijote mission: the Impactor spacecraft (Hidalgo) smashes into the asteroid while observed, from a safe distance, by the Orbiter spacecraft (Sancho).
The key moment of the Don Quijote mission: the Impactor spacecraft (Hidalgo) smashes into the asteroid while observed, from a safe distance, by the Orbiter spacecraft (Sancho).

Delayed deflection campaign

A decision date for a keyhole deflection is very soon, if not now, Schweickart suggested. Asteroid 2011 AG5 represents an actual threat that underscores the need for a NEO hazard decision-making structure within the UN COPUOS, he said.

Based on the latest analysis, Schweickart reported, a deflection campaign delayed until after the 2023 close approach appears marginally possible, as long as a decision to commit is made immediately thereafter.

In the low-probability case in which the impact threat of the asteroid persists beyond its 2013 apparition, "should a keyhole deflection campaign be foregone — for whatever reason — the international community may be faced with the difficult decision of choosing between an expensive multikinetic impactor or a nuclear explosive to prevent an impact should the NEO indeed pass through the keyhole," Schweickart said.

The timelines that would be required to mount a successful deflection of the asteroid, Schweickart told, might be challenging.

But first things first — researchers stress that more study of the asteroid’s trajectory is called for. The next tracking opportunities of 2011 AG5 will occur in September 2013, and then again in November 2015.

NASA chief: We still have time

In response to a letter from Schweickart regarding 2011 AG5, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said that 2011 AG5 is "high on NASA’s list of NEOs to monitor for impact hazard potential," adding that "we take these duties very seriously."

Bolden also noted the opportunities for highly accurate ground-based observations in the near future.
"Based on these observations, a more informed assessment can then be made on the need for any type of mitigation," he said.

Bolden also remarked that the asteroid makes an apparition in 2015, more than seven years before the close keyhole passage in 2023 that could set in motion an Earth impact in the 2040 time frame.
"As a point of comparison, NASA’s Deep Impact mission [the Deep Impact probe smashed into comet Tempel 1 in July 2005] was conducted in six years from selection to impact under much less urgency, demonstrating the adequacy of a seven-year period for any necessary response," Bolden said.

Leonard David has been reporting on the space industry for more than five decades. He is a winner of last year's National Space Club Press Award and a past editor-in-chief of the National Space Society's Ad Astra and Space World magazines. He has written for since 1999.

29 February 2012

Bad Astronomy: Why we have Leap Days

Today the Bad Astronomer himself explains Lead Years.  Actually, a pretty fun bit of information there.  I have always said that the universe has no reason to follow our desires, and when it comes to the orbit of our planet, the universe makes things difficult for us.  Hence all the strange little games we have to play in order to keep our calendar aligned the way we want it to.  Or as Dr. Plait says (there's A LOT more to it than just the every 4 years bit...):

Why we have leap days

Warning: First, this is a somewhat modified repost from — oddly enough — four years ago. Second, this post has math in it. A lot. Some of it might even be correct. If you are mathophobic, then you might want to skip to the end, where I reveal what Rosebud means.

And for those of you who are incredibly anal, yes, I know I kinda lost track of significant digits about 2/3 of the way through this. I was using a calculator, and just used whatever numbers it gave me to the last decimal place, leaving off for the most part trailing 0s. Sue me. I’m free on February 29th, 4800.

When I was a kid, I had a friend whose birthday was on February 29th. I used to rib him that he was only 3 years old, and he would visibly restrain himself from punching me. Evidently he heard that joke a lot.

Of course, he was really 12. But since February 29th is a leap day, it only comes once every four years.

And why is it only a quadrennial event?

Duh. Astronomy!

The Days of Our Lives

We have two basic units of time: the day and the year. Of all the everyday measurements we use, these are the only two based on concrete physical events: the time it takes for the Earth to spin once on its axis, and the time it takes to go around the Sun. Every other unit of time we use (second, hour, week, month) is rather arbitrary. They’re convenient, but not based on independent, non-arbitrary events.

It takes roughly 365 days for the Earth to orbit the Sun once. If it were exactly 365 days, we’d be all set! Our calendars would be the same every year, and there’d be no worries.

But that’s not the way things are. There are not an exactly even number of days in a year; there are about 365.25 days in a year. That means every year, our calendar is off by about a quarter of a day, an extra 6 or so hours just sitting there, left over. After four years, then, the yearly calendar is off by roughly one day:

4 years at 365 (calendar) days/year = 1460 days, but

4 years at 365.25 (physical) days/year = 1461 days.

So after four years the calendar is behind by a day. That means to balance it out again we add that day back in once every four years. February is the shortest month (due to some Caesarian shenanigans), so we stick the day there, call it February 29th, the Leap Day, and everyone is happy.

Integral to the plot



28 February 2012

Brainwashing or Stockholm Syndrome?

One thing that I have always failed to understand is how people who are maltreated by the very holy texts they hold to manage to stay part of that religion...  If this god character was really omniscient, omnipotent, and in particular omni-benevolent, wouldn't his morality be better than our own?  And haven't we struggled with our own morality for all of recorded history to make sure that humans are indeed treated with respect, fairness, and basic dignity regardless of the colour of their skin or the shape of their genitalia?

So in the West, the christian bible is revered for some reason, yet it has horrible moral lessons in terms of slavery and sexism.  So I have always wondered if women and African-Americans who are deeply religious are brainwashed to not pay attention to the horrible sexism and instructions on slavery, or do they suffer some sort of Stockholm syndrome?  I have mentioned this before, but I want to drive this particular point home with both sections covered here.

Let's take a look at sexism.
Look for places in the bible where god is an absurd, unmitigated jerk instead of the "all-knowing", "all-loving", "fully-enlightened" being that he is supposed to be.  There are many parts of the bible that display these tendencies. However, if you are a woman, the place where god's absurdity becomes completely clear is when you look at god's sexism.

The dictionary defines a misogynist as "One who hates women." [ref] It defines the word "sexist" as:
  1. Discrimination based on gender, especially discrimination against women.
  2. Attitudes, conditions, or behaviors that promote stereotyping of social roles based on gender
Is god a sexist? Let's look at the evidence. We find this in 1 Corinthians chapter 14:
    As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
This seems like a straightforward passage. And god is the one who inspired the bible. In Isaiah 40:8 god says that the word of the lord will last forever, and he says the same thing again in 1 Peter 1:24-25. So here we have god, in his eternal and everlasting word, saying that it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

This quote from 1 Corinthians 11 is important:
    But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonors her head--it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her wear a veil. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. (For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.) That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels.
You may find it hard to believe that something that confusing is in the bible, yet if you look it up you will find it is there.

Then there is this section from 1 Timothy chapter 2:
    Also that women should adorn themselves modestly and sensibly in seemly apparel, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly attire but by good deeds, as befits women who profess religion. Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent.
It is hard to miss god's meaning when he says something as direct as, "I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent."

If you think about it, you will realize that god started this type of sexism at the very beginning of the bible. In Genesis chapter 17 God says:
    This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your descendants after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.
God makes no mention of forming any sort of covenant with women.

There are many other examples that we can find in the Bible:
  • In Matthew 25:1 Jesus says: "At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom."
  • In John 20:17 Jesus says to Mary: "Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father," as though the touch of a woman is somehow improper, but a few verses later, is happy to have Thomas touch him.
  • In Genesis chapter 3, God punishes Eve, and all women for thousands of years, with greatly increased pain during childbirth. No such pain is inflicted on Adam.
  • In Ephesians 5:22-24 we find this: "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything."
  • In 1 Peter 3:7 we find: "Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers."
  • In 1 John 2:13, John says, "I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father." No mention is made of women.
  • And so on. There are many, many examples like these throughout the old and new testaments.
There are other, broader examples of misogyny that are readily apparent in the Bible as well:
  • Are any of Jesus' disciples women? No.
  • Are any of the elders in the book of Revelation women? No.
  • Are any of the books of the Bible written by women? No.
  • Etc...
God, it would seem, wants nothing to do with women.

Keep in mind that the bible's misogyny has affected society for centuries. The United States constitution, for example, was originally drafted to specifically deny rights to women. Women could not even vote in the United States until 1920, and only then after decades of battle in the women's suffrage movement.

If you think about it, you will realize that there is something quite odd about this situation. In spite of the fact that the bible is supposed to be god's eternal Word, modern human beings totally reject god's sexism. Modern human beings completely ignore god:
  • We make women the CEOs of major corporations.
  • We elect women to high government offices.
  • We appoint women as presidents of universities.
  • We fill our schools with female teachers.
  • We allow women to speak freely in church.
The contradiction should be as obvious as a lighthouse here. There is no ambiguity. We do all of this in direct defiance of god's Law in the bible because we know god and his "eternal word" are completely wrong. We know that god is imaginary.

If god is going to take the time to write and publish "the Word of God," why does the book contain so many problems?
  • Why isn't each page of the Bible astonishing us with its brilliance and insight, and filling us with wonder?
  • Why, instead, does the Bible contain so much nonsense or, in this case, bigotry?
  • Why are christians constantly having to justify, rationalize, excuse and explain the bible? In this case, we find modern christians trying to defend a god who obviously hates women on many different levels.
To any unbiased observer, the reason for sexism in the bible is very easy to understand: The bible was not written by a "all-knowing", "all-loving", "fully-enlightened" "god". It was written by primitive men who were flagrant sexists. Just look at how men in primitive countries like Afghanistan treat women today. Those are the kind of men who wrote the Bible.
And we all know it -- christians and non-christians alike. The reason why modern societies totally reject sexism is because we all know that the bible's sexism is completely contradictory and completely wrong. It is exactly the same situation we see when christians face slavery in the bible. Christians and non-christians alike reject the bible's teachings in these areas because the bible is obviously wrong. The part that is profoundly strange is that, while completely rejecting these parts of the bible, christians will claim that other parts of the bible are god's word. They are blind to the obvious contradiction because of their utter delusion.

Okay, what about slavery?
Here are ten passages from the Bible that clearly demonstrate God's position on slavery:

Genesis chapter 17, verse 12:
    And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised.
In this passage god understands that people buy other people and, quite obviously, is comfortable with the concept. God wants slaves circumcised in the same way as non-slaves.

Exodus chapter 12 verse 43:
    The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, "These are the regulations for the Passover: No foreigner is to eat of it. Any slave you have bought may eat of it after you have circumcised him, but a temporary resident and a hired worker may not eat of it.
God again shows that he is completely comfortable with the concept of slavery and singles out slaves for special treatment.

Exodus Chapter 21, verse 1:
    Now these are the ordinances which you shall set before them. When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing. If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master's and he shall go out alone. But if the slave plainly says, 'I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,' then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost; and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he shall serve him for life.
Here god describes how to become a slave for life, and shows that it is completely acceptable to separate slaves from their families. God also shows that he completely endorses the branding of slaves through mutilation.

Exodus Chapter 21, verse 20:
    If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property.
Not only does god condone slavery, but he is also completely comfortable with the concept of beating your slaves, as long as you don't kill them.

Exodus Chapter 21, verse 32:
    If the bull gores a male or female slave, the owner must pay thirty shekels of silver to the master of the slave, and the bull must be stoned.
Not only does god condone slavery, but here god places a value on slaves -- 30 shekels of silver. Note that god is not sophisticated enough to understand the concept of inflation. It is now 3,000 years later, and a gored slave is still worth 30 shekels of silver according to god's word.

Leviticus Chapter 22, verse 10:
    No one outside a priest's family may eat the sacred offering, nor may the guest of a priest or his hired worker eat it. But if a priest buys a slave with money, or if a slave is born in his household, that slave may eat his food.
Here god shows that the children of slaves are slaves themselves, and that he is completely happy with that concept.

Leviticus Chapter 25, verse 44:
    Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can will them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.
Here god states where you may purchase your slaves, and clearly specifies that slaves are property to be bought, sold and handed down.

Luke, Chapter 7, verse 2:
    Now a centurion had a slave who was dear to him, who was sick and at the point of death. When he heard of Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his slave. And when they came to Jesus, they besought him earnestly, saying, "He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he built us our synagogue." And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying to him, "Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come,' and he comes; and to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it." When Jesus heard this he marveled at him, and turned and said to the multitude that followed him, "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith." And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave well.
Here jesus shows that he is completely comfortable with the concept of slavery. Jesus heals the slave without any thought of freeing the slave or admonishing the slave's owner.

Colossians, chapter 3, verse 22:
    Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever your task, work heartily...
Here god shows that he is in complete acceptance of a slave's position, and encourages slaves to work hard. This sentiment is repeated in Titus, chapter 2 verse 9:
    Bid slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to be refractory, nor to pilfer, but to show entire and true fidelity.
Once again god shows that he is quite enamored of slavery.

God loves slavery
If the bible is written by god, and these are the words of the lord, then you can come to only one possible conclusion: God is an impressive advocate of slavery and is fully supportive of the concept.
As you can see, these slavery passages present us with an immense contradiction:
  • On the one hand, we all know that slavery is an outrage and a moral abomination. As a result, slavery is now completely illegal throughout the developed world.
  • On the other hand, most christians claim that the bible came from god. In god's word, the "creator of the universe" states that slavery is perfectly acceptable. Beating your slaves is fine. Enslaving children is fine. Separating slave families is fine. According to the bible, we should all be practicing slavery today.
The intensity of this contradiction is remarkable. It shows us quite clearly that god is imaginary.
If god were to exist, and if he were playing any role whatsoever on our planet, he would eliminate this connection between himself and slavery. There is no way that a loving god would allow himself to be perceived as condoning and encouraging slavery like this.

Here is the thing that I would like to help you understand: You, as a rational human being, know that slavery is wrong. You know it. That is why every single developed nation in the world has made slavery completely illegal. Human beings make slavery illegal, in direct defiance of god's word, because we all know with complete certainty that slavery is an abomination.

What does your common sense now tell you about a bible that supports slavery in both the Old and the New Testaments?

Understanding the Rationalizations

Many believers will argue that god had to talk this way in the Old Testament in order to "fit in" with the dominant culture. This, of course, is silly. In christian mythology, god is the one who created humans and human culture. In addition, a god that condones the beating of slaves and the enslavement of children at any time is an abomination.

A believer might say, "Well, all of those verses are from the Old Testament and no longer apply because of jesus." This line of rationalization prompts several obvious questions. Why would the Old Testament still be printed in the bible if jesus overturned it? Why would God EVER tell us to beat slaves?

The most important thing that this line of rationalization misses is that jesus specifically states that the laws of the Old Testament still stand. In Matthew 5:18 Jesus says:
    For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.
Then he goes on to say:
    Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
According to jesus, the Old Testament is alive and well. According to Isaiah 40:8, "the word of our god stands forever." The notion that these old testament verses no longer apply is completely untrue according to the bible. Christians imagine that they "no longer apply" as a way of rationalizing their religion.

Other believers rationalize that god did not write these slavery passages in the bible. The bible was somehow corrupted by slave-loving men. In that case, the obvious question to ask yourself is this: If the bible has been corrupted, how can we possibly know which parts of the bible came from god and which parts were inserted by primitive men? You have absolutely no way to know.

It is when you start thinking about the bible in this way that you understand something very important about the bible. Either the entire bible really is god's word, or the entire bible was written by primitive men with absolutely no input from god. Here is the reason for this very strong dividing line:
    If part of the  bible came from god and part came from primitive men, you do not know which is which. You do not know if jesus really is resurrected, or if that's just a make-believe story inserted by primitive men. How do you know if god wrote the Ten Commandments or not? If any part of the bible has been polluted by primitive men, you have to reject the whole thing. There is no way to know who wrote what, so the entire book is invalid.
There really is no middle ground and the bible has to be an all-or-nothing book. Either the entire bible came from god, or none of it did. With this all-or-nothing reality about the bible now understood, you can see that there are only two possible explanations for the slavery passages in the bible:
  • The bible is right, and god loves slavery. The entire bible is god's word, so these slavery passages must be god's word too. The laws in the United States and other modern nations that make slavery illegal defy god's word. Justice Scalia should be promoting slavery in exactly the same way that he promotes the Ten Commandments.
  • The bible condones slavery because the bible was written by slave-owning men, not by god. God is imaginary.
Chances are that you have a problem with the first explanation. God would not champion the abomination that is slavery. We all know that. Therefore, what you are left with is the second explanation. 

So what is your vote on this issue? Brainwashing or Stockholm Syndrome?

19 February 2012

Keep the "Creation Museum" off this list

Greg Laden's blog alerted me to this website where people can vote on sites that are good family destinations.  You can't downvote a site, but absolutely suggest sites that are at least based in reality!  Currently the creation museum is at number 3...  Go vote for much more deserving places please and knock that place off.  Something where actual learning will take place, not a lobotomy.  And the comments...  Holy shit.  I had to add my 2 cents int here as well, but I just couldn't bear the overwhelming stupid of most of them so I kept it short:
This "museum" should only serve as a warning as to what rampant ignorance and mental castration can do to the wonder of science and history... I can't understand how bronze age fables survive in today's age of space flight, genome sequencing, and everything else we know about the world.
There are a few other rational comments there, but most of them are just the ignorant lapping up the supposed wonder of this place.  The authoritarian, and unquestioning faith these people display is truly frightening.  That they are so certain in what they believe is what is frightening, especially when you consider the long list of people their god tells them to hate and kill.  I just can't respect that sort of unquestioning faith, and see it as the worst weakness of humanity...

Instead, I love the grandeur and wonder of more modern viewpoints.  Think on this:
"Every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics.
You are all stardust.
You couldn't be here if stars hadn't exploded. Because the elements, the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, iron, all the things that matter for evolution weren't created at the beginning of time. They were created in the nuclear furnaces of stars. And the only way they could get into your body is if the stars were kind enough to explode.
So forget Jesus. The stars died so you could be here today." - Lawrence Krauss
Isn't that frikkin' COOL!?  Instead theists insist that they actually have the answers to everything, even if it's demonstrably wrong.  Maybe Carl Sagan said it better:
In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe. How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, "This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed"? Instead they say, "No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way."- Carl Sagan

01 February 2012

Imagining the 10th Dimension

I was cruising around the YouTubes inside the intertubes.  I managed to avoid a bunch of cats, and I came across these two videos doing a passable job at attempting to explain 10 dimensions.  Although, I still think they miss the entire point of the ultra small curled up dimensions, it's a good start at education.

Even Scientific American has good things to say about the effort of 10th Dimension in popularizing the science. And one can't leave this discussion without at least talking about the 4th dimension (which is spearate from t he 10 spatial dimensions in the previous videos):

31 January 2012

Minor Critique of Abrahamistic Religions

Just a minor critique that I saw that I wanted to pass along.
The Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) are essentially the same : schizophrenic.
We bring love and peace ... by telling you everyone else is an enemy to be avoided, hated and even killed when ordered.
We bring hope ... by telling you the world is hopeless and doomed.
We bring truth ... by telling you the most twisted lies you've ever heard.
We bring knowledge ... by telling you 'God' is the answer to every question you shouldn't ask.
I have often said they are all the same, because on the surface they really are.  I am sure there are many other things these major religious spout off that they then act in total opposition to.  Which is why Christopher Hitchens felt the need to actually confront these groups.

29 January 2012

Mesmerizing loops of magnetism on the Sun ... and a flare

Who knew that the Bad Astronomer had a YouTube channel all to himself?  Well, I did (I am stalking him after all).  So today he posted a video of some solar flares that were simply mesmerizing.  As always, watch this in full screen, and in HD for the full effect.  Awesome visuals with education, who could ask for more?  Also, since so many folks are talking about the aurora and the effects of these solar eruptions, I figured this was topical.

Keep in mind, these flares are shooting off into space, and will not have any effect on earth right now.  However, should one be pointed at us, be prepared for a light show.

He explains everything at his blog post if you are curios for more information.

27 January 2012

This is a galaxy

Much like Dr. Plait, the Bad Astronomer, I don't really think I can add a whole lot to this. Like him, you absolutely must watch it in HD and full screen though.  Go ahead, it's only 90 seconds, and you may learn something, or at least be amazed at the things we are able to figure out. Aren't we clever considering we're just apes on an insignificant planet in a totally insignificant part of the universe.

25 January 2012

The wisdom of Homer (Simpson)

A long time back, I made a post talking about an atheist wager that should take the place of the ill conceived Pascal's wager that theists like to trot out so much.  What it says is:

Instead, my wager is that if there is a god, and it is a just god, then living a just and moral life will be acknowledged regardless of ones beliefs. If there exists an unjust or immoral god, then I could never satisfy both my conscience and such a god. My wager is that if the christians are right (or any of the other millions of religions mankind has thought of) about god being just and all-knowing and all-loving, I will be rewarded if I act in morally sound, justified ways.

I don’t have any evidence that there is a god (and neither does anyone else). To me, the idea of a god, or even of an afterlife pales in importance to what we experience everyday. Life. Life is the only thing that I “know” I have and when that is gone, I doubt I’ll be around to care, however, others will. I must live my life as I please, and since I believe I will only ever get one chance at it, I want to live it in the best manner that I can and help others do the same.

So I was somewhat amused when I saw an article in The Guardian that delved into this idea a bit more.  Especially considering my recent post about the huge number of variations even within each religion.  Everything that I am seeing from at least the US evangelicals really drives to the second sentence of my wager.  The god fellow they are so concerned about seems like a total douche (omnidouche?).  I cannot support such a petty, cruel, vindictive, incompetent, and downright stupid creature even if it were to exist.  Given these characteristics, and the 38,000 versions of christinaity, I am betting that even if Pascal's wager had any merit, the chances of picking the right one even amongst christians is a long shot, let alone the myriad of gods mankind has come up with outside that particular death cult.  Or as Homer Simpson said: "What if we've picked the wrong religion? Every week we're just making God madder and madder?"

I urge you to read the whole article, but here is an excerpt from it that seems to sum up the whole idea behind Homer's Wager:
So let's call it Homer's Wager, for reasons that will soon become clear.

Here's how it works. Let's start with the very generous assumption that we think it more likely than not that God exists. To put a number on such things is ridiculous of course, but for the sake of argument, we'll use the figure of 67% which was the one a risk assessor came up with a few years ago. You might think that, if this is true, you should believe in God. But here's the problem: does it matter which God you believe in?

Maybe it doesn't matter, but it does matter if it matters. If it doesn't matter which God you believe in, it's because there are no important rewards or penalties for believing in the right or wrong God. But if that's the case, then it would not seem to matter if you didn't believe at all. A God who didn't care if you got belief right would hardly come down hard on those who didn't believe at all. I think we can safely conclude that the probability of a liberal God fascist – one who doesn't mind which version of him you believe in, but if you don't believe in him at all, he'll let you rot in hell – is negligible. As Homer Simpson put it when arguing that he shouldn't go to church: "Don't you think the almighty has better things to worry about than where one little guy spends one measly hour of his week?"

So if it doesn't matter whether you believe in such a vague God or not, you have no compelling reason to bother. The atheist bus slogan could just as easily be "There's probably a God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life".

If, on the other hand, it matters which God you believe in, it's because there are certain important rewards of belief that you will not receive if you don't believe in the right one, or punishments for failing to believe correctly. But even Homer Simpson can see the problem with this: "What if we've picked the wrong religion? Every week we're just making God madder and madder?" Choosing the wrong God might be worse than believing in none at all.

So to continue with the mad maths, even if you think it more than 50% likely that a God exists who will treat you differently – not just over the next few short years of your life but for all eternity – whether you believe in him or not, you still have no reason to believe in such a God, because you simply can't know which one to go for and life is too short to try them all out. In case you think that's overstating it, you only need to go into one church to find that there are almost as many Gods worshipped there as there are worshippers.