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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):