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(no subject) [May. 12th, 2008|04:41 pm]
No such luck, Not this time at least.
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In Memoriam [Sep. 11th, 2007|06:25 am]
It's been six years since the events that changed the nation. Seemingly overnight, we changed from a leader of peace and prosperity in the eyes of the international community into a savage warmonger. We began to systematically hand over control of our lives, our freedoms, to the government in the hopes of gaining protection. Nearly 3,000 people were killed in a set of coordinated attacks. There are 300 million Americans (not including foreign nationals residing in the US), even in that attack, the largest of it's kind on American soil, the chances of being killed were 1 in 300,000. The 2005 hurricane season was almost; over 3 times as many perished in the tsunami back in 2004. And if the defense/CT budget weren't so bloated, we could have given more support to the victims of recent natural disasters and perhaps invested more into performing actual measures of protection against them (patchwork levees are not a solution). I am not saying that the events were not tragic, they most certainly were, but we shouldn't lose sight of what is truly important. Those who lost loved ones six years ago today should certainly keep this day in memory, but America has to move on.
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On Free Speech [Jun. 25th, 2007|11:28 am]
It is official: free speech is dead. The Supreme Court of the United States of America (SCOTUS) ruled 5-4 against the student who flew a "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" banner back in 2002. The philosophy behind the ruling was that the banner may have advocated drug use. According to the student, it was merely a politcal statement, an exercise of free expression. So perhaps some folks out there don't see this incident as a major issue. "Why don't you just avoid drug references?" they say. It's not about what was banned from speech, but that anything was banned in the first place. If SCOTUS exempts one topic from free speech, it will be that much easier to do exempt another one. And if we just give up on this blatant violation of our 1st amendment rights, it will be that much easier to give up next time.
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On a religious jury [Jun. 14th, 2007|06:12 am]
As if I needed another reason to avoid Texas, a Harris County (TX) jury, with "Ninety-eight percent of the evidence pointed to (Cook) [the accused] being correct" (according to a juror) and still unable to render a verdict, pray to ultimately decide. Can anyone say "mistrial"? Isn't guilt supposed to be determined beyond a reasonable doubt? Is 98% not guilty not reasonable?! I do recognize that it was only one juror who pulled the figure 98% out of his ass, but come on! Even the prosecutor said there wasn't much of a case! And all involved honestly believe that god him/herself allowed for the not guilty verdict. Judging from the rest of the article, it would have taken a supernatural force to convict the guy, not the other way around. Is this standard practice in Texas? Why even have the jury present if they have to rely on prayer despite overwhelming evidence? And remembering a story a while back about a tourist who was arrested for asking a movie patron to be quiet during the film, I have no intention of risking my life on the off-chance of having to face a Texas jury and their deluded interpretation of a divine being. Please, but no thank you.
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On Religion in Public Schools [Apr. 16th, 2007|11:49 am]
Every year it seems, there is a high profile event concerning the involvement of religion in public schools. The Texas state House of Representatives has introduced a bill that would require public schools to accomodate students wishing to study the bible provided that at least 15 students were interested. I would like to hope that the Supreme Court of the United States steps in and shoots this bill down before it gets enacted.

Continued...Collapse )

Some people complain that religion is being unfairly stripped from our nation, that there is a war against it waged by the nonbelievers. They mention instances where a pillar of this country was torn down because it hinted at religion. Yet their main examples of the removal of religion were hardly part of the foundation of the US. They bring up prayer in school, the pledge of allegiance, even the oath of office (when an elected official wanted to swear on the Koran instead of a bible). Prayer in school was removed as a result of action from Christian families. The phrase "under god" was added to the pledge of allegiance in the 1950's as was "In god we trust" on our currency. And there is no law that says an elected official has to say "so help me god" during their oath of office. So stop bitching when a fundie ploy fails or is reversed by the courts. Your churches are still safe, an no interpretation of the first amendment will change that. You can still read whatever book you like in the sanctity of your own home. There is no need to push your religious beliefs into public schools and make taxpayers foot the bill.
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On Elastic Reality, Rigid Beliefs [Mar. 27th, 2007|05:57 am]
There are some rather silly ideas out there in the world today. Undereducated individuals make some claim and, for some reason, others believe it. Take, for example, Georgia State Representative "Ben" Bridges. He [allegedly] wrote a memo calling for a ban on teaching evolution. This is nothing new, particularly in the state of Georgia. But what sets this apart from most other such statements is the reason for calling the ban. He believes that evolution and the Big Bang are lies being concocted by Kabbalah. I would have thought we were past blaming the Jews for everything we perceive as wrong, at least on this hemisphere. What this memo actually refers to is a two-thousand year-old alternative creation story. He then falls back on the famous "evolution is a theory, not a fact, so it shouldn't be taught in a science class" argument. You can read this and other arguments at their website fixedearth.com.

Evolution is a theory and a fact. We have, in our lifetimes even, observed microevolution. We have seen new species form and we have observed changes in phenotypes occur. We have a fossil record (if you choose to accept that they aren't another ploy by the Jews) that shows gradual change in species over time. Though the mechanisms of evolution are fact, the process as a whole and topics of genesis are unproven. Thus it remains a theory, and it probably will remain theory indefinitely. The science class is not a nothing-but-facts class. If science teachers could only teach proven facts, there would be little to teach. Gravity is a theory, but it is still taught. Assuming that the Theory of Gravitation is tossed aside, we would need to send with it (amongst others) Atomic Theory, Relativity, Circuit theory (hydraulics and electric currents), and the propagation of sound waves. Then consider everything based off of those subjects that would, too, need to be dismissed.

A theory is a falsifiable prediction or assumption about a (potentially unobserved) phenomenon. It's not some arbitrary guess; it is a hypothesis that has withstood rigorous testing. If part or whole of a theory is found to be untrue through testing, it is modified to reflect new observations or discarded as per the scientific method. Those that use the theory-not-fact argument ought to wage a full-scale war on mathematics since the entire field is base on a set of axioms. 0 < 1 is an axiom as well as 0 and 1 existing. An axiom is considered widely to be truth; however, there is no proof other than the axiom itself (sounds kind of familiar, doesn't it?). And if mathematics is dismissed, most of the rest of science must also be dismissed. Being a legislator, Ben Bridges would probably be interested in this idea, since he could remove several subjects from the curriculum and save an awful lot of money. Of course, few colleges would like to admit students with no math or science background whatsoever, and few employers would hire a fry cook or cashier who can't count.

Even if a general idea was proposed thousands of years ago, a modern theory that includes the idea is different (particularly in the area of testing. A cosmic spark that jumpstarted the creation of the known universe did not become an accepted theory until evidence was found in the form of a congruence between actual universal expansion and the Robertson-Walker model. Since then, other evidence has been found to support the theory. Myths are generally fabricated to provide some explanation of an unexplained phenomenon, albeit with no evidence and often the inclusion of supernatural elements. However, that does not mean there isn't any truth whatsoever in these myths. Like the Medium Paradigm, if you make enough guesses, one of them will eventually be correct.

This appears to be another attempt at weaseling creationism (or ID) into public schools. This also illustrates this idea of "elastic reality, rigid beliefs" whereupon a group or individual takes a fact or observation and finds a way to link it to their hypothesis usually by stretching or distorting the truth. It happens often in arguments from young-Earth creationists and other ID supporters and leads to some pretty wild claims (such the Grand Canyon was caused by the great flood of Noah's fame). Last October, Richard Dawkins gave a book reading to students and academia at Randolph Macon Women's College in Lynchburg, VA. A few students and faculty from nearby Liberty University (a Christian liberal arts school) made the trip to attend the lecture (whether they were genuinely interested in his views or just wanted the chance to confront him for his ideas is debatable). At the question and answer session following the selected readings, more than half the questions were raised by those from LU, and all of those questions all had the same purpose: discredit Dawkins and his ideas. Many such questions had multiple parts, some being along the lines of "Why not believe in God?" or "What if you're wrong?". But one man from LU brought up a very troubling example. He claimed that the LU museum contained a dinosaur fossil that was merely 3000 years old. There was no mention of how this fossil was dated, but if it were tru, it would surely be considered the greatest archaeological find of the ages. It's a wonder we didn't hear of it before or see the headlines covering newspapers and magazines across the world. The question was what would it take to convince Dawkins that the fossil was truly a few millenia old. It should be mentioned that there have been extraordinarily many dinosaur fossils found and dated. None of them are less than 65 million years old. Dawkins said that the sample would need to undergo radioactive dating processes. Not just one dating, but several different age-determining processes. There are many different radioisotopes that can be used for dating that use completely different fundamental principles to determine age. Yet these different process still agree on the age of a specimen. Dawkins replied, "If it's really true, that the museum at Liberty University has dinosaur fossils which are labeled as being 3000 years old, then that is an educational disgrace. It is debauching the whole idea of a university. And I would strongly encourage any members of Liberty University that are here to leave and go to a proper university." [from wikipedia]. As far as I can determine, no follow-up has been done and no scientific aging has been performed on the suspect fossil.

This urge to manipulate reality to fit one preferred model is not only absurd, it stands in the way of academic advancement.
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On flu shots [Nov. 6th, 2006|08:21 am]
You've heard that joke about flu shots stopping the flu by giving you a cold for a year; but there's as much truth to that joke as that other one about flu vaccinations stopping the flu at all. For those of you unfamiliar with how flu shots work, let me explain. The flu is one of the most common illnesses and a general annoyance to the public. It is so common partially due to the fact that it mutates quite frequently and antibodies for the previous form of flu are no longer effective. Flu vaccines are made of dead or weakened flu viruses that are predicted to be that year's strain. Due to the sheer number of possible mutations and the development time of the vaccine, determining the upcoming flu-season strain is like predicting what the weather will be (exactly) in 10 days. The feat is nearly impossible, but that doesn't stop companies from producing their vaccine and clinics from pushing concerned people-folk into getting innoculated.

Proof of flu shots actually working as prescribed is shady at best. Conclusive evidence of effectiveness is still missing. In fact, there is more evidence to conclude that getting a flu shot is worse that doing without. Recent studies show that there are inherent health risks for those under the age of 5 and over the age of 65; yet, due to the high flu-fatality rate of these groups, they are the ones under the most pressure to get vaccinated.

And then there's this bullshit.
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On False Patriotism [Oct. 17th, 2006|02:35 pm]
Since 9/11/2001, there has been a resurgence of blind patriotism in the United States. By "blind" I mean that it is fairly unguided and often misled/misused. The so-called "war on terror" became a highly lethal sporting event with the home team being a bunch of drunken rednecks shouting at at other bystanders, "You don't like America? Then we'll kick your ass!". For a time, those who weren't wearing Amercian flags on their clothing or driving around with a "United We Stand" sign in a car window were looked upon with suspicion. And they call this patriotism. This whole notion of "patriotism" is corrupted, perhaps beyond repair. This commentary is focused primarily on an original American symbol: Old Glory, the Stars and Stripes, the flag of the United States of America.

In the days following 9/11/01, flags lined city streets, buildings and parks around the country. It wasn't long before the flag was in commercials on every network. Competition between products became less about which product was better for the consumer or which candidate was more in line with your views on politics, and more about which one is more "American", more "patriotic". I remember seeing a commercial for some sleazy lawyer which simply had an American flag flying in the background and a message pops up near the end with the lawyers phone number. Perhaps these people didn't read or didn't care about the United States Flag Code which states in section 8, paragraph (i):
The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever.
Disregarding this guideline diminishes the stature of the flag and what it stands for. A recent short that periodically shows up on television has John Mellencamp strumming a guitar singing a tune that will one day get collected with the other patriotic-for-the-sake-of-being-patriotic singles that have shown up in vast quantities (and should soon be located in the $0.99 bin at a truck stop restroom). Various scenes of pivotal events in American history since 1950 flash in the background to the chorus "this is our country". Among the scenes shown are pictures of Rosa Parks sitting at the front of the bus (standing up, so to speak, for her human rights), Martin Luther King, Richard Nixon's farewell, and results of hurricane Katrina. The video ends with a shot of a wheat field and a new pickup truck pulling to a stop. The culmination of decades of effort to better this country, pulling through hard times was all just to allow people to buy a damned truck? Are the marketing gurus who came up with that one trying to compare a fucking pickup with the massive reconstruction efforts to rebuild the storm-torn Gulf coast? Do the efforts of major civil rights figures mean the same as a oversized, pice-of-shit, gas-guzzling pile of fuck on wheels? Cheverolet has hit a new low in advertising. I'm surprised the FCC hasn't stepped in and pulled that self-serving bullshit off the air (and actually do something worthwhile with all that power they have). The only thing worse is that, according to Jalopnik, one of the images in the ad which wasn't shown was that of a nuclear blast. Real patriotic, isn't it.

There are no real patriots anymore, it seems. They've gone the way of the vacuum tube and common sense. We are left with political candidates waving a couple of flags here and there to boost their ratings a couple of points. We are left with catchphrases that mean nothing but a couple of bucks for the guy printing the bumper stickers and the oversized banners hanging from the bridge of an aircraft carrier. We are left with only memories of what it means to care.
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On Separation of Church and State [Aug. 28th, 2006|12:11 pm]
I stumbled upon a headline recently which struck my fancy. "Rep. Harris: Church-state separation a 'lie'". Being the fooling man that I am, I mistook that to mean that there is no separation of church and state and decided to read the article. Silly me. No, the republican stated that the doctrine was not meant to create secular government or laws. And she goes on to say that electing a non-Christian is to promote "legislating sin". She still believes in the divine mandate (that the ruling power is granted only by a higher power, according to Harris, God and God alone). I suppose it's a good thing that her opponent is Jewish, provided the people of Florida see things her way, too. And the Floridians will also need to overlook the $30K+ in illegal campaign contributions she accepted. And the fact that she's a lunatic.

We all know that more than 50% of Americans believe in a supreme being. We know that Christian values are "popular". However, even many Christians will scoff at claims that only Christians are fit to serve in government (doesn't that claim sound an awful lot like the idea of a supreme race - my obligatory Hitler reference). Just once I'd like to see a Jewvangelist candidate. "The Jews are the only ones fit to lead!" Just to help balance things out a little. Then the atheists take control.
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On Food [Aug. 22nd, 2006|10:18 am]
"Are you tired of giving hope to the starving people of the world? Do you just hate the notion of making agriculture easier and more efficient? Then why not join a Green group and make sure that the food supply fails to support 2 billion people"

The European Union has blocked "GMO-tainted", that's genetically modified, rice from being introduced to their food supply amidst pressure from "Green groups". The fact of the matter is that there is NO VIABLE REASON TO BAN GMO CROPS. None. Not a single [supported] reason. Japan has also blocked imports of American rice for similar concerns as the EU. But why the fuss? According to groups such as Greenpeace, GMO crops are completely untested for food safety and environmental safety and they are the products of "Frankenstein"-like experimentation, combining rice genes with genes from animals, humans and where ever else genes could be found. For the record, these crops are not untested; they are. They are tested more rigorously than organic and other non-GMO crops. After decades of testing by the FDA and EPA, THERE ARE NO KNOWN HEALTH EFFECTS of GMO crops different from standard (aside from millions of people NOT starving to death) and THERE ARE NO KNOWN ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECTS either (aside from the fact that wastelands and other areas with climates once too harsh for food crops can sustain some GMO crops). You'd think that with how long we've been working at it and testing it, we'd have seen some sign of human mutation (seriously, this is a noted concern of many anti-GMO-crop groups) or cross-species "infections" if there were any problems.
There is little doubt that the EU will block shipments of US rice. These Green groups have won similar battles (undeveloped parts of Africa are "protected" from GMO crops). What will it take to convince these eco-nutjobs that these crops aren't contagions; they're food. A consumer can likely live their entire lives without ever knowing the difference between GM corn or rice and traditional. People like Greenpeace are probably never going to give up the fight, regardless of how much evidence contrary to their propaganda may surface. It's depressing.

How about a new campaign? Go to your local grocery store and picket in front of their organic produce section. You can protest against purchasing organic using the same style propaganda as the anti-GMO'ers. Say that these crops haven't been treated against harmful (potentially deadly) diseases that could be transferred to consumers. The goal of organic crop prodcuers is a plan that stands to kill not thousands, not millions, but billions of human beings. The reasonings here hold more water than the reasons against GMO crops. And the thought of supporting a cause that plans to kill billions of people just isn't appealing to most.
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