Thursday, July 30, 2009

Unscientific America

So, if you've been following the science blogs, the atheist blogs, or the skepticism blogs, you've no doubt heard of the giant kerfuffle over Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum's new book Unscientific America.

Because I'm lazy, I'm not going to link to the relevant posts, but it shouldn't be hard to track down the relevant back-and-forth salvos o'vitriol at Mooney/Kirshenbaum's blog and PZ Myer's blog.

Now, I'd like to preface this with noting that I have not read UA to date. I have read and enjoyed Mooney's previous books, The Republican War on Science and Storm World. But the consensus I've seen of UA seems to be that there's some good discussion of scientific illiteracy in this country, but that there are major flaws in their approach to how to solve the issue. Namely, Mooney and Kirshenbaum blame scientists for not being PR people in addition to being, you know, scientists; and blame the "New Atheist" movement for daring to not bow down to religious claims when they are contradicted by science. If you ask me, kowtowing to unscientific claims is a good way to INCREASE public misunderstanding of science.

There's a new review of UA by Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon. Though it seems to echo the earlier criticisms of the book, Amanda's review is the best encapsulation of the issues at hand I've read... For instance,
I am so sick of the argument that assumes religious people can state their beliefs as forcefully as they like and threaten non-believers with hell, but atheists have to approach the topic on our tip toes. Mooney and Kirshenbaum repeatedly state that there’s no conflict between religion and science as if it’s a fact, when at best that’s a point of strong disagreement.
Exactly. This is why I heart Amanda Marcotte. Go check out the full piece.

Overheard in SLC: Polygamist Rally Roundup

So, I have another blog -- a neglected one -- called Overheard in SLC. If you're familiar with Overheard in New York, it's the same thing... only, you know, in SLC... and crappier.

Anyway, I just put up a post with some of my favorite quotes from polygamous FLDS members -- and the people who'd come in contact with them -- who were here in town over the last few days for a huge rally thing.

Also, if you live in SLC and would like to help contribute to Overheard in SLC, let me know! Or, if you overheard something deserving of being included, drop me a line!

Gary: Landlord of the Flies

Check out this HILARIOUSLY awesome blog from Gabe, who has been documenting his increasingly bizarre experience with a room rental (and now, it's aftermath) since first moving in at the beginning of June. Here's a taste of the awesomeness that is Stranger than Eviction, and be glad that Gary is not your landlord:
Upon returning from work on Wednesday, I find 2 cop cars parked in the driveway. The police inform me that when James returned from the hospital, he discovered his TV, laptop, and iPhone were all missing. When asked about this, Gary claimed he had no idea where they were. The police then found the TV in Gary’s garage. He admitted to having stole the TV, but said he had no idea where the laptop or phone was. They found the laptop under his bed. “Alright, I also stole the laptop, but I have no idea where the iPhone is.” The iPhone was then found in his desk drawer.

This is the first, and a prime example, of Gary’s inability to plan for future events. One could assume that after finding the TV, they would likely continue to search. Unless you have thought of a really unique hiding place, just fess up, because they’re probably going to check your desk and under your bed...

And it gets so much better/worse.

Since, as a blog, the newer posts are at the top, I'd recommend starting at the first post (currently, at the bottom of Page 3) and working your way to the newest post. You'll be reading it and laughing in sympathetic horror working hard at your job all afternoon.

Shona Holmes and the reality of Canadian heatlhcare

If you're following the heathcare debate at all, you've probably heard of Shona Holmes. Holmes has been showing up just about everywhere with her story of how the Canadian government, because their socialist, bureaucratic healthcare system, was willing to allow her to die of a fatal brain tumor. Luckily, she came to the USA where we have a super awesome healthcare system not forged by Stalin, and doctors here were able to save her life.

That's the story, more or less, how she tells it... but you might (not) be surprised to hear that the problems with her story are numerous and range from hyperbole to outright falsehoods.

See the rest of this tale at Some Candaian Skeptic's blog. [and a hat tip to Kaylia Metcalfe]

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

HAHAHA! Oh, Fox News, you make it too easy!


Check out the awesomeness of Fox's map of the Middle East.
And here all this time I though Egypt was in Africa... And where, exactly, does this put Iraq? You'd think since we've been fighting a war there for more than half a decade, our friends at Fox might have this down by now...
[from Media Matters, via Sadly, No!]

Monday, July 27, 2009

Surprise Debate @ the Farmer's Market

Last weekend, some friends and I went to the Salt Lake City Farmer's Market. After we'd browsed around for a bit, we grabbed some food and sat down in the shade to eat and relax.

The four of us were chatting about labels. You may have seen my post recently on the same topic. We were discussing the meaning and qualities people might assign to you if you labeled yourself, for instance, a secular humanist versus an atheist.

Out of nowhere, a guy laying on the grass about ten feet away decided to join our conversation, yelling over at our small group:
Atheism is a religion like any other! Atheists are destroying this country and militantly trying to push their views on everyone else and [details lost in a haze of illogic]."
Um. Okay. Who invited this guy to the conversation? We were having a rather abstract philosophical discussion on nature of words and categories, and I was using my religious identification as an example (which happens to be more or less shared by the three people I was with). This guy feels he has an obligation to set us straight on what, exactly, we believe.

This guy shot into a long monologue about why atheists are bad and evil and we're all conspiring to destroy the world or something. At this point, two women on a nearby park bench stand up and leave. I can't say I blame them. Then I spoke up.

Did I make a mistake in engaging the guy? Possibly, but the discussion (which, needless to say, was fruitless) was such a shining example of the sorts of slurs and nonsense I hear hurled about against the nonreligious all the time right along utter falsehoods presented as facts.

Allow me to share some tidbits and quotes, as best as I can remember them. (I'll note that my text intercut here is probably a more fleshed-out discussion of the issues than I originally said, but his text should be fairly accurate.)
Jerk: Atheists are trying to push their views on everyone! They're trying to prevent me from worshiping the way I want. Atheists are trying to infringe on my free speech!

Me: No they're not. Most atheists are for a secular government, but would be vehemently opposed to limiting anyone's religious freedoms. Are there atheists who want to ban all religion and prevent people from practicing as they choose? Probably. I've never met one, but there are extremists in every group.
Jerk: But they're infringing on how I choose to worship! A church in New York had to take down their cross. Some atheist sued them because the shadow of the cross hit public property.

Me: If that happened, which I doubt, then that is wrong. [As expected, that story appears to be bullshit.] Like I said there are extremists in every group. Everyone should be enabled to worship -- or not -- as they see fit. That's exactly why we need to keep our government secular: to protect your religious freedom!

Jerk: Well, this country was founded as a Christian nation.

Me: That couldn't be more false! Many of the founders weren't even Christian: Franklin, Jefferson, Madison--

Jerk: Madison was a strong Christian who believed in Christian principles in our government!!!
Of course, in the real world, Madison more vociferously opposed any religious intrusion into the government than maybe even Jefferson, and said so just about any time he opened his mouth. Lots of other awesome Madison quotes at that link.

Jerk: If they didn't want it to be a Christian nation, why did the founders make "In God We Trust" our national motto.

Me: Uhhh... They didn't! That became our national motto in the 1950s during the Red Scare. The founders were pretty strident secularists, even most of the religious ones.

Jerk: Show me where in the Constitution it says "separation of church and state."

Me: Yeah, those specific words don't appear, in the 1st amendment. But it's clear that was the intent, particualrly since that specific phrase, "separation of church and state," originate from Jefferson's explanation 1st ammendment. How about the first ever legal US government document that makes any mention of Christianity whatsoever, the Treaty of Tripoli, which was written by President Thomas Jefferson and ratified unanimously by the senate, which states that the "Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion." That seems pretty unequivocal to me.

Jerk: Well, our laws are based on Christian laws.

No they're not.

Name one that isn't.

Name one that is.

Thou shalt not kill.

Laws against murder long predate the Hebrew Bible and exist in every society. What about the Sumerians? The Code of Hammurabi?

I don't know where you've been learning your history. Maybe you should go back to school.

Um, my degree is in anthropology and I primarily studied Middle Eastern archaeology.

Oh yeah! Well, I have a Ph.D!

Um. Okay...

How old are you?

That's not important.

No, really, how old are you?

That's not important.

My friend: Actually, we were having a private conversation that didn't involve you. Why do you think you have the right to intrude into it.

Jerk: Because I live the United States and I have the right say whatever I want, a right atheists want to take away!
And it went on like this for a while. Eventually, the four of us stood up to walk away from this nonsense, and as we sauntered off, I murmered "Jesus Christ" to myself.

Me: Why? I thought we lived in the United States, where I'm free to say whatever I like! That's the difference I'm talking about: I think that everyone should be able to say what they like, and you think some people, like me, should be excluded.

Jerk: ... Well, at least I said please.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Simon's Cat

Via FilthyGrandeur, here's Simon's Cat. No words need be added. Just enjoy:

There's more to be had at the Simon's Cat YouTube channel.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Pat Buchanan = Racist Gasbag; Rachel Maddow = Made of Win

In case you hadn't heard this, perennial bigot and Pat Buchanan, who is inexplicably still employed by MSNBC, went on the Rachel Maddow. Buchanan was arguing that Sotomayor did not deserve to be on the supreme court because she hadn't written any law review papers "that I [Buchanan] have read," and because the seat rightly belonged to a white man, because...
"...White men were one hundred percent of the people who wrote the constitution, one hundred percent of the people who signed the declaration of independence, 100% of the people who died at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, probably close to 100% of the people who died at Normandy. This is a country built by white folks, basically..."
Well, Maddow has responded and issued a correction to Buchanans racist falsehoods...

Monday, July 20, 2009

"and today he's invented me murdering my son:

This has already appear just about everywhere, but it's so great I have to share it here as well...

Instead of just venting rage, here are some pics of the Doctor Who

I'm really quite frustrated with real-life events today.

Quite frustrated actually doesn't even begin to summarize it.

But I don't want that to spill over here or get anyone else down...

So instead, here are some of the first set pics of Matt Smith as the new Doctor Who and Karen Gillan as companion Amy, courtesy Blogtor Who... A bowtie, seriously? He looks like Tucker Carlson. Also -- and I'm saying this as one of the palest people on the face of the earth -- don't these two look like they need a bit of sun?

Can't comment his the acting yet, of course. I'm hopeful, but I still wish it had been Patterson Joseph in that, um... bowtie. He'd have been brilliant:

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Congratulations, Sid and Rebecca!

This makes me happy. :)

Main Street Plaza Kiss In

I can't really say anything that hasn't been said on this already, so I'll just leave it to Jen at Blag Hag (a blog I'm coming to enjoy quite a lot! :) ), when it comes to the leadership of the large religious organization located at the heart of my fair city:
I hope gays make out in front of all of your temples every day until you wise up.
Nice. :)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Categories and Labels: a Manifesto

There are many categories I or others might consider myself a part of. Some of these are fairly trivial in their consequences, some are shaped by my society, some shape my role in that society. Some are completely self-applied and help shape the lenses through which I view the world.

Now, labels are just labels. There is a huge variety of opinions within any group. And anyone can throw labels onto themselves that other people might take issue with. The Pussycat Dolls claim to be a feminist band. Bill O'Reilly calls himself a centrist. I, on the other hand, might label him a "douchebag." He in turn would then label me a "pinhead," and so on. We humans like to put things in categories. They make things easier to understand. Categories can be useful, even self-applied categories. But it's important to recognize that they're artificial.

Today, I want to address several of these labels that I readily apply to myself. The ones through which I see the world, as I mentioned above. I'm a far-left liberal, a skeptic, a feminist, an atheist, a humanist, an agnostic, a science-enthusiast, and on and on and on.

I don't see any conflict between belonging to any of those categories I listed above. But why do I apply those particular labels to myself?

I'm a humanist, a skeptic, a science enthusiast, an atheist, and an agnostic because I believe there are things we do know, things we don't know and things we can't know.

In the case of things we do know, I revel in them. I am awed by the fact that we are the products of billions of years of evolution from simple chemical chain reactions to complex creatures that can turn around and consciously know that we are the result of said chain reactions. We are self-aware. Isn't that cool? And those chemical reactions are in turn made possible by billions of years more of stars coalescing from clouds of pure hydrogen, burning for periods of time longer than we can really even conceptualize beyond pure numbers, then exploding in a confetti of oxygen, carbon, neon, copper and all the other elements that make up everything we see, including the eyes we see them with... That is awe inspiring stuff.

And things we don't know? Science is the journey to turn these things into things we do know. It's that self-awareness I mentioned, looking deeper, trying to understand how things are the way they are. And it's by far the best tool we have for doing this.

Then there are the things we can't know. Did a god create the universe? Well, unless it appears before us and presents irrefutable evidence that it did, we have no way of knowing. I personally think this is unlikely, which is why I call myself an atheist. I do not believe that gods exist. Can I prove it? Of course not, but I likewise cannot prove that leprechauns do not exist, such is the nature of magic and supernatural beings. But I cannot know whether or not gods exist. Thus I am both an atheist and an agnostic. One is a statement of belief ("I do not believe that gods exist") and the other, one of knowledge ("I cannot know whether they do or not").

And I'm a skeptic because we live in a beautiful, natural world filled with wondrous things, and do not feel the need to sully the gorgeous wonder of our universe by muddying it up with crass notions for which there are no evidence, such as gods, anal-raping aliens, or using the magical "memory" properties of water to treat real illness.

I'm a feminist. I'm a humanist. I'm a political liberal. I'm these things because I think all people should be equal, that everyone in our world should have the same opportunities, regardless of gender identification, race, nationality or because of those with whom they choose to share their life or their bed. I believe that we need to listen to each other. I believe that we are all informed by our background. I believe that, for instance, white males -- a demographic to which I belong -- collectively have a hugely disproportionate voice. I believe that women, non-whites, gender and sexual minorities, religious minorities, cultural minorities, and countless other groups have been and continue to be disenfranchised and we need to do everything we can as a culture to correct this. No one's thoughts should be dicarded or discounted because he or she belongs to any particular group. This includes everyone, from bisexual libertarian Arab Scientologist men to straight Marxist white atheist women.

I do not believe, however, that one's statements should be exempt from critique simply because either the speaker of the critic belongs to any one group or another. I was dismayed recently at the reaction on a feminist website when a few commentators disagreed with the post or even just added information in the initial post. The reaction was not to critique the content of the comments, but to malign the character of the commenters for happening to belong to a group (in this case, being non-disabled) of privilege. It's absolutely true that being disabled gives one a different perspective, and that our society is built around the non-disabled.

But squelching discourse, to say that someone in a "priviledged" group is not even entitled to an opinion, that's wrong. And it's hateful. And I will condemn it when it's done in a group I identify with every bit as much as when it's done elsewhere.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

What the hell is wrong with me?

Last night, I committed a horrible and unconscionable act. Something I regret woefully. Yes, I watched Transformers: Revenge of the Falllen.

Why do I do this kind of thing to myself. After seeing the trailer, I already knew it was going to be utter crap, and had no desire to see it... but then the reviews started pouring in. And. They. Are. Scathing.

Now, a normal person would read things like "Transformers 2 has a shot at the title Worst Movie of the Decade," and they'd think to themselves, "huh, guess I'll avoid that one for sure!"

But me? No. I think "Hmmm... Now I NEED to see it." I have a track record with this kind of thing. It's why I watched Twilight. It's why I saw (and blogged about) Expelled: there are bad movies, and there are fiascoes. And I can't help myself with fiascoes.

Let it be known: Transformers 2 is a fiasco.

First off: it's a sloppy movie. Early on -- when the Autobots (the good guys) are tracking down and brutally murdering what is left of the Decepticons, who are now hiding and scattered in diaspora -- there are three motorcycle transformers called the "Arcee Twins." Yep. That's some good math. We don't see them again until the final battle, when one of them, now just called "Arcee" reappears. So, are there one, two, or three Arcees?

Ah, but I'm nitpicking. There is so much wrong with this travesty of a film. And it goes far beyond bad math (though there's more of that, too, as others have noted: At one point, a naval officer detects five Decepticons headed to the ocean floor. There, one of them becomes spare parts to fix Megatron. When the remaining four plus Megatron resurface (note: 5 - 1 + 1 = 5), the naval officer annouces that SIX targets are coming up! Ominous!).

There's been a fair amount of criticism af Skidz and Mudflap, two new robots designed to be the comic relief, and clear racist stereotypes. One of them has a gold tooth, and they don't know how to read, cuz dey's from da inna city. Honestly, I'd not have been surprised if they ended up eating fried chicken and watermelon. Jesus Christ.

And what about female characters? Let's review all of them:

First, there's Mikaela, Megan Fox's character. She is an even flatter, shallower character than she was in a the first film, and that's saying something. Everyone in the film, INCLUDING FREAKING ROBOTS is constantly remarking on how hot she is. Hot hot hot. One Joe Pesci-ish robot even humps her leg for laughs, such is her irresistable charm. She has two roles here: be hot, and be a good girlfriend.

Next up: the Arcee "Twins." These are robots, but they are clearly female in that they have skinny hips and boobs. They are in the movie for maybe 30 seconds, and the filmmakers can't even keep straight how many of them there are. For 30 freaking seconds.

Alice: I think that was her name. She's the hot hot hot seductress on campus, secretly a robot the Decepticons enrolled into Sam's college, just in case Sam ended up being important again (Surprise! He did!). As this awesome "Transformers 2 FAQ" put it: "
The slut-bot made out with [Sam] for a little bit then immediately tried to kill him, neither for any apparent motive or gain."

Then finally: Sam's mom. She buys a magic brownie at Sam's college, which has a picture of a marijuana leaf on it, and which everyone in the room warns her is a pot brownie. She is sure the green leaf just means all-natural, or something, and she downs the thing. Because she is daft, apparently.

And that's it That's every female role in the film. Other than that, the movie is a scrotum-fest. And unfortunately, I'm not being facetious: one of the giant robots has a huge pair of testicles made of wrecking balls. I imagine that John Turturro must have been rethinking his career choice when he was uttering this line from the film:
I am standing directly beneath the enemy's scrotum.

I can't really bring myself to say much more about this film, but I HIGHLY encourage you too read this hilarious Transformers 2 FAQ. Here's a taste:
Transformers don't teleport.
Jetfire does.

But -- wait a second, he's a fucking jet. He could fly everybody to Egypt, right? And that would make perfect sense for both the character and the franchise!
Well, I guess so. But he chooses not to. The point is Jetfire teleports them all to Egypt where he explains that there used to be 7 or 8 Primes, and they traveled around the galaxy blowing up suns for energon. But they never did it on planets with life.
Well, they had set the machine up on Earth and not noticed all the life running around, and one of the Primes just said fuck it, let's do it anyways. This was evil, so they called that Prime the Fallen and beat the shit out of him although he escaped.

Why would a robot need to fart, pee, or vomit? And why would it need testicles?

Michael Bay does not understand what a robot is.

I am already incredibly sick of this movie, and I'm just typing questions about it. Sam resurrects Optimus, Optimus kills the Fallen, end of story, right?
Pretty close. Sam dies, though.

Yeah, for a little while. But then the Transformers in heaven send him back because he still has work to do.

Fuck you.
I'm serious.

Fuck you. There's no way.
It's true. The 6-7 Primes are there in the clouds like Mufasa's head in The Lion King, and tell Sam he's awesome and he needs to live again so he can bring Optimus back to life.