Saturday, January 30, 2010

The 50 Most Loathsome Americans, 2009

Ian Murphy and Alan Uthman at buffalobeast.com published an incredibly funny list of the 50 Most Loathsome Americans of 2009

Here's a taste of what to expect:

42. Arianna Huffington

Charges: HuffPo’s health coverage is like a horny chimp with a switch blade: dumb and dangerous. Arrianna’s “Wellness Editor” holds a “PhD” in homeopathy, the fake science of diluting medicine in water to increase its healing power—the higher the dilution, the more potent. In fact, she and other homeopathic quacks sell “medicine,” which is indistinguishable from Evian. Last summer, Arianna’s “internet newspaper” advised people to protect themselves from swine flu with a deep-cleansing enema. Seriously. Every woo-age celebrity with a vaccination conspiracy or snake oil remedy and a laptop is given column space at HuffPo. It hurts to read Dan Akroyd speculate about the existence of ghosts; it’s agonizing to read Deepak Chopra’s shoddy metaphysics, and it may actually kill to publish Bill Maher’s Luddite rants. Apparently, the only thing Huffington won’t let her writers do is get paid.
Exhibit A: “When it comes to health and wellness issues, our goal is to provide a diverse forum for a reasoned discussion of issues of interest and importance to our readers.”
Sentence: AIDS, one of Magic Johnson’s pills, Lake Michigan and a crazy straw.

The rest of the list is funnier still (and I definitely agree with #1).

(If you found Huffington's sentence to be a little too mean, you probably don't want to read the rest of them...)

Friday, January 29, 2010

Bill and Melinda Gates donate $10B for vaccinations

Bill and Melinda Gates announced that they will invest $10 billion in fighting diseases with vaccinations around the world.  The 10 year program will focus on vaccines for AIDS, tuberculosis, rota virus and pneumonia.
"We must make this the decade of vaccines," said Bill Gates.
"Vaccines are a miracle," added Melinda Gates. "With just a few doses, they can prevent deadly diseases for a lifetime. We've made vaccines our priority at the Gates Foundation because we've seen firsthand their incredible impact on children's lives."
They're absolutely right; vaccines are some of the most astonishingly effective things humans have ever come up with to treat or prevent disease.  It's fantastic to see that the Gates' are putting their money toward worthy causes that are backed up by medical science.  And while I may disagree with the way Bill Gates made his money in the first place, I can't deny that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation does amazing work.

Jaime Kilstein on Homophobia and Sexism

Tim Minchin shared this video on his Twitter feed.  It's of a comedian named Jaime Kilstein, and it's fantastic:



I'm going to be watching his videos the rest of the night.

Look up in the sky...

Go outside tonight and look at the beautiful full moon.  This will be the largest full moon of the year, which is amazing to look at on its own.  Now, did you notice the reddish star to the left of the moon?  Well that's no star, it's a spacestation Mars!  You can tell that its a planet, rather than a star, because it doesn't flicker like stars do.  This is the best view we'll have of Mars until 2016.
 
I really need a telescope...

The Scale of the Universe by FotoShop

This is an awesome interactive flash animation, featured by Phil Plait on his blog Bad Astronomy, showing the relative size of everything in the Universe, from the Planck length and the quantum foam to the size of the entire Universe, and everything in between.

It's truly mind boggling being able to compare things of such disparate size. Even things I expect to be relatively close in size turn out to be much farther away.  For instance, zoom in on the proton, then look for the three quarks that make it up.  You see that tiny dot directly in the middle?  That's them.  The proton is almost completely empty space.**

Or take a look at the neutrino, the smallest particle at the 1 yoctometer mark (that's 10-24 meters), then scale down until you get to the Planck length and the quantum foam.  You have to go 10 orders of magnitude down to get there (.0000000001 yoctometers!), with nothing in between the two.  Truly amazing.

Go check it out, you'll be tested later.


**I think Lawrence Krauss said that 90% of the mass of the proton comes from quantum fluctuations in empty space in this awesome video on Cosmology.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Reading the Qur'an: Juz' 1 (1:1 - 2:141)

So here's my first post on the Qur'an!  As per some advice from a commenter on my earlier post, I am referring to commentary from Muhammad Asad available online, along with my hard copy of the Qur'an translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali (available online here).  I've also read some of the commentary by Manuala Muhammad Ali, although I'm told that it's more controversial than the more mainstream translations.  When I quote the Qur'an, I'll use the Yusuf Ali translation, unless otherwise noted.

Sura 1:  Al-Fatiha (The Opening)

The first sura goes by many names, including the Seven Oft-repeated Verses, because it is recited by every Muslim multiple times during each prayer, which occurs five times a day.  In fact, according to M.M. Ali:
Its oft-repeated seven verses constitute the prayer for guidance of every Muslim at least thirty-two times a day, and therefore it has a much greater importance for him than the Lord’s prayer for a
Christian.
This seems like a pissing contest to me.  I can repeat the Lord's prayer as many times as I want, doesn't make it any more important.  I suspect more comparisons to other religions are forthcoming.

The first sura was revealed in Mecca, and was one of the earliest revelations, although not the first.  Note that the Qur'an is not setup chronologically; generally longer suras come before shorter ones.  I'm not really sure why this is, but perhaps as I read further it will become more clear.  It supposedly lays out all of the fundamental principles laid out by the rest of the Qur'an in condensed form:

...the principle of God's oneness and uniqueness, of His being the originator and fosterer of the universe, the fount of all life-giving grace, the One to whom man is ultimately responsible, the only power that can really guide and help; the call to righteous action in the life of this world ("guide us the straight way"); the principle of life after death and of the organic consequences of man's actions and behaviour (expressed in the term "Day of Judgment"); the principle of guidance through God's message-bearers (evident in the reference to "those upon whom God has bestowed His blessings") and, flowing from it, the principle of the continuity of all true religions (implied in the allusion to people who have lived - and erred - in the past); and, finally, the need for voluntary self-surrender to the will of the Supreme Being and, thus, for worshipping Him alone. (M. Asad)

This sura is short enough to quote in its entirety:
1. In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
2. Praise be to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds;
3. Most Gracious, Most Merciful;
4. Master of the Day of Judgment.
5. Thee do we worship, and Thine aid we seek.
6. Show us the straight way,
7. The way of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace, those whose (portion) is not wrath, and who go not astray.
 I don't really have much to say about it yet.  I obviously don't believe that God exists, and thus we are not responsible to him in any way, nor is he responsible for our existence.  We only have other humans to rely on for aid when we need it.  I don't believe he's bestowed on us grace: I believe we're good because of natural causes.  Then again, I haven't read the Qur'an yet, maybe I'll change my mind. 

Sura 2:  Al-Baqara (The Heifer)

This chapter deals with Jewish history, and where the Jews made errors in earlier revelations.  The name "The Heifer" refers to a story about Moses and the Jews sacrificing a heifer (verses 67-71).  They seem to imply that Jews tend to worship idols, which I can't really argue with, from my reading of the Pentateuch.  

The first part of the sura (verses 2-7) says it is guidance for those who believe without doubt in Allah:
2. This is the Book; in it is guidance sure, without doubt, to those who fear Allah.
3. Who believe in the Unseen, are steadfast in prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them;
4. And who believe in the Revelation sent to thee, and sent before thy time, and (in their hearts) have the assurance of the Hereafter.
5. They are on (true) guidance, from their Lord, and it is these who will prosper.
6. As to those who reject Faith, it is the same to them whether thou warn them or do not warn them; they will not believe.
7.
Allah hath set a seal on their hearts and on their hearing, and on their eyes is a veil; great is the penalty they (incur).

It makes it fairly clear right off the bat that God wants you to believe without evidence.  Not only that, but those who doubt will never believe, regardless of warnings, becuase God has "set a seal on their hearts."  I've never understood this idea.  It's presented in the Bible as well, such as the story in Exodus where God "hardens Pharaoh's heart" and the plagues are cast on Israel.  How exactly is it my fault if God is the one who makes it impossible for me to believe in the first place?  If I must believe in the unseen, without sufficient evidence, that's not going to be good enough.

Next, verses 8-20 talk about those who perform lip-service to God, but are hypocrites.  For example:

8. Of the people there are some who say: "We believe in Allah and the Last Day;" but they do not (really) believe.
9. Fain would they deceive Allah and those who believe, but they only deceive themselves, and realise (it) not!
10. In their hearts is a disease; and Allah has increased their disease: And grievous is the penalty they (incur), because they are false (to themselves).
11. When it is said to them: "Make not mischief on the earth," they say: "Why, we only Want to make peace!"
12. Of a surety, they are the ones who make mischief, but they realise (it) not.
I actually like the basic message in verses 8-10:  Be true to yourself, and don't say one thing and do another.  Although I don't believe God is punishing those people who don't follow this principle, I do think it takes a toll.  It feels so much better to just be honest and stand by your principles.

Then again, verses 11-12 sound like an excuse to dismiss non-Muslims no matter what they do.  Even if they say their goal is to make peace, they must be making mischief.  As M. Asad says:
It would seem that this is an allusion to people who oppose any "intrusion" of religious considerations into the realm of practical affairs, and thus - often unwittingly, thinking that they are "but improving things" - contribute to the moral and social confusion referred to in the subsequent verse.
Anyone suggesting more tolerance to other religious views, or secularism, could be accused of causing moral decline.

Verses 23-24 are interesting:
23. And if ye are in as to what We have revealed from time to time to Our servant, then produce a Sura like thereunto; and call your witnesses or helpers (If there are any) besides Allah, if your (doubts) are true.
24. But if ye cannot- and of a surety ye cannot- then fear the Fire whose fuel is men and stones,- which is prepared for those who reject Faith.
They assert that the divinity of the Qur'an is obvious.  Their evidence is that you can't produce another work that is like the Qur'an.  That's pretty weak, I see nothing so far that suggests the Qur'an is any better than the Bible or the Bhagavad Gita.  There are differences, but nothing that suggests that any are divinely inspired, or that one is better than the other.

This seems to go along with verse 106 (I know, I'm skipping around), which M. Asad highlights in his introduction to this sura:
106. None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar: Knowest thou not that Allah Hath power over all things?
 The reference, in verse 106, to the abrogation of all earlier messages by that granted to the Prophet Muhammad is of the greatest importance for a correct understanding of this surah and indeed of the entire Qur'an... Again and again it is pointed out that the legislation of the Qur'an corresponds to the true requirements of man's nature, and as such is but a continuation of the ethical guidance offered by God to man ever since the beginning of human history. (M. Asad)
While Muslims accept the fact that previous revelations were divinely inspired, the Qur'an is better, new and improved.  I also find the second have of that verse funny.  It sounds like they're saying it doesn't matter how ridiculous all this sounds.  Are you suggesting that God doesn't have the power to do something completely ridiculous?

Verses 30-39 describe the creation of man by God, and how man is superior to angels, because man was given knowledge and free will.  Although this gives man the capability of doing evil, it also means they are capable of becoming masters of nature.  Verse 34 shows that Iblis (i.e. Satan) would not bow to humankind, and was one who rejected faith.  The rest of this section describes mankind's fall from grace, as in Genesis.

The Qur'an makes giving to the poor a major virtue, mentioned first (in the book, not necessarily chronologically) in verse 43.  They also promote telling the truth and not hiding your knowledge in the preceding verse.  Both virtues I can get behind.

Next, we're reminded of the trials of Israel starting with verses 47, mostly describing what happens to Moses.  It focuses a lot on their transgressions.  However, it also reminds us (a lot) about the covenant God made with his chosen people, and say that all people who believe in God and the Last Day will be rewarded, in verse 62:
62. Those who believe (in the Qur'an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians,- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.  
I find verse 65 amusing:
65. And well ye knew those amongst you who transgressed in the matter of the Sabbath: We said to them: "Be ye apes, despised and rejected."
No shame in being an ape to me; apparently God didn't know much about human evolution...

The sura continues to talk about the Covenant between God and Man from the Old Testament laws.  For instance, verse 84:
84. And remember We took your covenant (to this effect): Shed no blood amongst you, nor turn out your own people from your homes: and this ye solemnly ratified, and to this ye can bear witness.
I don't know if Muslims ever provide this verse as proof of Islam being a peaceful religion, but the tribalism presents the opposite.  If Islam were peaceful, why explicitly say that only your own people's blood deserves not to be shed, rather than everyone.  Perhaps the peaceful stuff comes later (this is a recap of Old Testament law, of course).

More talk of those who broke the Covenant with God (Jews):
91. When it is said to them, "Believe in what Allah Hath sent down, "they say, "We believe in what was sent down to us:" yet they reject all besides, even if it be Truth confirming what is with them. Say: "Why then have ye slain the prophets of Allah in times gone by, if ye did indeed believe?"
92. There came to you Moses with clear (Signs); yet ye worshipped the calf (Even) after that, and ye did behave wrongfully.
93. And remember We took your covenant and We raised above you (the towering height) of Mount (Sinai): (Saying): "Hold firmly to what We have given you, and hearken (to the Law)": They said:" We hear, and we disobey:" And they had to drink into their hearts (of the taint) of the calf because of their Faithlessness. Say: "Vile indeed are the behests of your Faith if ye have any faith!"
Those who reject faith are enemies of Allah:
98. Whoever is an enemy to Allah and His angels and apostles, to Gabriel and Michael,- Lo! Allah is an enemy to those who reject Faith.
99. We have sent down to thee Manifest Signs (ayat); and none reject them but those who are perverse.
I have not seen any Manifest Signs of a god's presence, and it's rather presumptuous that I should take it on faith from someone else.  Hopefully more actual proof shows up later in the Qur'an, but I'm not expecting that.  My experience with holy books is they present a lot more wonder about the proof of a god without presenting the actual proof.  As if it should be obvious to everyone.  It's probably because in the 7th century when the Qur'an was written, or even earlier when other holy books were being written, it was easy to assume God explained everything, since we didn't have the explanation we have today.

They continue with assertions about people without faith, including People of the Book (Jews and Christians) and pagans:
105. It is never the wish of those without Faith among the People of the Book, nor of the Pagans, that anything good should come down to you from your Lord. But Allah will choose for His special Mercy whom He will - for Allah is Lord of grace abounding.
109. Quite a number of the People of the Book wish they could Turn you (people) back to infidelity after ye have believed, from selfish envy, after the Truth hath become Manifest unto them: But forgive and overlook, Till Allah accomplish His purpose; for Allah Hath power over all things.
110. And be steadfast in prayer and regular in charity: And whatever good ye send forth for your souls before you, ye shall find it with Allah. for Allah sees Well all that ye do.
111. And they say: "None shall enter Paradise unless he be a Jew or a Christian." Those are their (vain) desires. Say: "Produce your proof if ye are truthful."
Those are pretty broad accusations.  I certainly don't wish ill upon those who have faith broadly, including Muslims.  At least verse 109 recommends forgiveness to those who do not believe, and 110 to continue being charitable.  They demand proof from Jews and Christians about the criteria for entering a place which no religion has given any proof of existence at all.
113. The Jews say: "The Christians have naught (to stand) upon; and the Christians say: "The Jews have naught (To stand) upon." Yet they (Profess to) study the (same) Book. Like unto their word is what those say who know not; but Allah will judge between them in their quarrel on the Day of Judgment.
This seems like a silly complaint, given the sectarian nature of Islam today.  The reason no one can agree on the meanings in their holy book is that believing them relies more on individual whims than on evidence.  Translators are certainly looking at historical and linguistic evidence for finding the correct interpretation and translation of the work, but they start from the view that this is a divinely inspired work.
118. Say those without knowledge: "Why speaketh not Allah unto us? or why cometh not unto us a Sign?" So said the people before them words of similar import. Their hearts are alike. We have indeed made clear the Signs unto any people who hold firmly to Faith (in their hearts).
121. Those to whom We have sent the Book study it as it should be studied: They are the ones that believe therein: Those who reject faith therein,- the loss is their own. 
Again, it seems you already have to believe in order to see the proof of God's existence, or even study the book correctly.  So it seems like I'm on a fool's errand, but I'll continue nonetheless.

Verse 124-127 mention Abraham from the Old Testament:
124. And remember that Abraham was tried by his Lord with certain commands, which he fulfilled: He said: "I will make thee an Imam to the Nations." He pleaded: "And also (Imams) from my offspring!" He answered: "But My Promise is not within the reach of evil-doers."
125. Remember We made the House a place of assembly for men and a place of safety; and take ye the station of Abraham as a place of prayer; and We covenanted with Abraham and Isma'il, that they should sanctify My House for those who compass it round, or use it as a retreat, or bow, or prostrate themselves (therein in prayer).
126. And remember Abraham said: "My Lord, make this a City of Peace, and feed its people with fruits,-such of them as believe in Allah and the Last Day." He said: "(Yea), and such as reject Faith,-for a while will I grant them their pleasure, but will soon drive them to the torment of Fire,- an evil destination (indeed)!"
127. And remember Abraham and Isma'il raised the foundations of the House (With this prayer): "Our Lord! Accept (this service) from us: For Thou art the All-Hearing, the All-knowing.
I don't recall hearing much about Isma'il in the Bible, as opposed to Isaac, who was the father of Jacob, father of the 12 sons who become the heads of the 12 tribes of Israel (oh, and Isaac was almost sacrificed by Abraham according to God's command, let's not forget).  I'll have to look back to see what's said about Isma'il in the Bible. 

The rest of this Juz' finishes with reminding us again that Muslims accept all of the previous revelation, but are also given a new revelations that even better.  It even makes the claim that the prophets, Abraham, Isaac, Isma'il (again, I don't remember him being a prophet in the Bible), and Jacob we not Jews or Christians:
140. Or do ye say that Abraham, Isma'il Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes were Jews or Christians? Say: Do ye know better than Allah. Ah! who is more unjust than those who conceal the testimony they have from Allah. but Allah is not unmindful of what ye do!
So in summary, I like some of the virtues presented so far (being true to yourself and others, being charitable, etc.), but the same in-group out-group stuff that comes across in the Bible is here as well.  There is also a lot of pressure to believe before one can see the proof for God.  My mind just doesn't work that way.  I don't just believe things because I'm told, I need some evidence first.  I'm kind of strange like that.  There certainly is condemnation of Jews, who are viewed as idol worshipers and convenant-breakers, though forgiveness and patience is ordered, which is good.  Hopefully that message will continue throughout the Qur'an. 

Phew, one down, 29 to go!  Stay tuned for Juz' 2, which includes more of Chapter 2 (The Heifer).

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Catholic Diocese changes their marriage preparation requirements

As the number of church weddings are on the decline, the Catholic diocese in Phoenix has introduced changes to the program for couples who want to get married in the church, including lengthening the time it takes from six to nine months, and deepening the education.

Although I know these programs are full of superstitious nonsense, they also do provide couples with counseling which gives them some insight on both their partner and themselves. My fiancée and I are going through premarital counseling ourselves with a psychologist, and it has been a very valuable experience, for learning what our real values are, and what things we're going to have to deal with to make our marriage work. I'd prefer that these Catholics go to a trained counselor or psychologist, but this is better than nothing.

This move is probably going to backfire on the church anyway. Creating more hoops to jump through will mean even less people deciding to get married in the church. And those who do go through the nine month course will be subjected to even more of the church's dogma. I suspect this will lead to more people realizing how ridiculous some of their theology actually is. In fact, why not test these couples on Catholic theology even more thoroughly. If you want to be married as a Catholic, and raise Catholic children, shouldn't you actually understand what the church holds as true?

The bishop in Phoenix cited four concerns which prompted the change:

1. Fewer marriage role models and increased cohabitation.

I think cohabitation before marriage is a good thing, you learn much more about a person when you live together and share responsibilities in this way. I do agree, however, that having role models for all aspects of life, including marriage, is incredibly important. I suspect the role models' behaviors to emulate offered by the church will include their superstitions, but again, its better than nothing. Counseling can certainly help with this.

2. A high divorce rate.

A legitimate concern, obviously.

3. A growing number of single-parent families.

This ties into divorce, which certainly affects children immensely. While there plenty of children in single-parent families thrive (I think I did), it is often more difficult for the parent, so I buy this concern as well (although probably not for the same reasons as the church).

4. "Increasing confusion" over the meaning of marriage in society because of efforts to legalize gay marriage.

Confusion? I know people who are against gay marriage because of what it says in the Bible, or because they think it's icky, or their pastor told them to be, or whatever else. But who exactly is confused by it? This sounds like euphemistic language designed to make the church appear less homophobic. If they make it sound like gay marriage negatively affects the marriage of others, their opposition is about love and respect for them, instead of what it really is: bigotry perpetrated by ancient superstitious nonsense. And if you want to get married in the church, then you're going to have to get on board with it, regardless of what common sense and compassion dictates.

I know what my marriage means, and I didn't need the Catholic Church to tell me.  It means that I love my soon-to-be wife, and am committed to being her friend and partner for the rest of our lives. It means that we are a family now, we support each other and help each other grow. It means realizing that my actions and decisions affect her, and that her concerns are my concerns. I know there will be difficulties at times, but we are committed to working hard to make it through. Anyone who is confused about it, just because a same sex couple would like to what my fiancée and I are doing, should not be getting married. They are not mature enough to make that decision, regardless of what a celibate priest who has never been married has to say about it.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Reading the Qur'an

So I mentioned in a previous blog post that I would begin reading the Qur'an soon, and blog about it.  By original plan was to do it in 30 days, since the Qur'an is broken into 30 sections (called a Juz') for Muslims, who are supposed to read the entire Qur'an during the month of Ramadan.

I began reading the copy I got from YourMuslimNeighbor.com, and found I couldn't realistically read AND understand AND blog about the entire Qur'an in 30 days.  The Qur'an isn't like the Bible, which has stories and pseudo-history that can be read through like a story book.  So far, it is a long-winded oration by God, through Muhammad.  The Bible has some of this too, but it's not like the Qur'an.  There are plenty of passages which are incomprehensible without some commentary.  My copy of the Qur'an suggests this is because the Qur'an can only be written in Arabic, whereas translations of the Qur'an are not really the Qur'an.  The word of God must be in Arabic, and any translation contains the translator's interpretation of the words.  This sounds like a cop-out, meant to deal with the fact that the Qur'an really is simply incomprehensible when read critically by people who haven't already been told what to believe about the book.  There's nothing magical about the Arabic language.  Some might find it beautiful, but it has the same expressive power as any other language. 

I still plan on reading and blogging about the Qur'an though. My plan is to use another copy which includes some commentary.  I found an online one here, which looks sufficient.  I know that the commentary could be biased, and probably represents what someone wants me to think about the text, but that's unavoidable.  I will continue to read the Qur'an sent to me first, and double check difficult passages with the commented copy.  I may not be able to read Arabic, but I can compare translations, and will keep in mind disparities when they arise.  If the translations are similar enough, I'll take it for granted that its an accurate representation of the text.

Since this will take more time than just reading the Qur'an once through, I'll probably blog every few days about each Juz' I read.  I should have one up soon, so stay tuned!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

When good arguments go bad...

I enjoy a good argument, I really do.  And not in an uppity, superior, "Look how smart I am" kind of way.  I enjoy presenting my reasoned arguments, and defending my position against other arguments, learning and adjusting my beliefs along the way. 

That's not to say I don't get frustrated dealing with the same, flawed arguments over and over again, such as those made by theists or creationists.  But I can remind myself that while I may have seen the same argument before, each person presenting the argument may never have heard criticism of their ideas.  (Greta Christina turned my attention to this point with a post she wrote a while ago)  And although in most cases my arguments seem to have no effect, I'm at least putting a new idea in someone's head, and in time it may resonate, perhaps with the help of a lot of arguments from encounters with others. 

I can deal with bad arguments and flawed logic.  In fact, I find it helpful to find logical fallacies in others' arguments, because it helps me find them in my own lines of reasoning.  It's often difficult to critically examine your own arguments, because of your own emotional attachment to them.  Critical thinking requires divesting yourself as much as possible, and practicing always helps.

I try my best, whenever I'm in an argument, to deal with the arguments and ideas presented, as rationally as possible.  Part of that means that I have to assume that the person I am arguing with is trying to present a rational argument, and is open to criticism of his use of logic and reason, as I try my best to be.  I know that in practice many people have no intention of even considering my arguments.  And even if they are willing, I am still a disadvantage when trying to change someone's mind, just by normal psychological responses to having your beliefs challenged (e.g., confirmation bias).  But the assumption is necessary in order to hold a reasonable conversation. 

To that end, I am VERY careful about questioning my opponent's willingness to accept new ideas.  I would rather continually explain the problems with an argument, than accuse my opponent of being too stubborn to even consider my arguments.  In fact, if my concern is to arrive at the truth, then I don't even have to concern myself with whether the other person is willing to listen to my arguments. 

I saw an example of making that accusation that really made me shutter the other day.  I was randomly reading a blog post about how to prove that .999... = 1.  That's right, I enjoy both logic and math proofs, that's exactly how cool I am!  Anyway, in the comment section, a commenter with the alias "removed by request" disagreed with the proofs presented, and was having an argument about the consistency of the proofs.  The arugment for the first few rounds were fairly civil, and while I disagreed with removed by request's logic, I had no problem with his argument style on the whole.  Until, that is, he decided he didn't want to play anymore:

I was going to post a rebuttal with complete proof from 2(two) ASU mathematicians (who both agree with me), but upon review of all your posts, I came to the ultimate conclusion that you don't need proof. You will go to your grave believing with the core of your being that .9999999... does, in your mind, equal 1. However wrong I, or anyone else may think you are will not matter. Trying to convince you otherwise is like trying to convince an atheist that God exists.

I leave you now, respectful of your opinion, because whether I agree or not is a moot point. You may choose to use personal attacks, call me a fraud, a liar, and an idiot, but I leave taking the high road. I bid you farewell, good sir.
  
And just to show you the exchange that prompted that response:

"When you write out .99999999... you are giving it a limit. Once your fingers stopped typing 9s and started typing periods, you gave infinity a limit."

So am I to gather that pi also doesn't exist, or that it also ends, since whenever anyone tries to write it, their fingers have to stop typing?

"Wait, did I see a fraction that equals .9999 repeating? No I didn't. Because it doesn't exist."

Ummm, how about 53/53. that's a fraction that equals .9-repeating.

"And is .99999999... an integer? I thought an integer was a whole number, which .99999999... obviously is not."

If I am claiming that .9-repeating equals 1, then I am indeed claiming that it is a whole number, and I gave a mathematical proof. It's "obvious"ness to you isn't relevant if it's a proof. Numbers can be written in many ways--1, 53/53, .999999....., 83-82, all the same.

"Also, can I see that number line with .999999999999... plotted on it?"
That's actually an argument for my claim, not against it. If that number exists at all (and I'm not 100% sure you think it does, but you haven't explicitly claimed it doesn't), then finding a place for it on the number line is indeed very difficult if you don't think it equals 1. I have no trouble putting it on a number line. It goes halfway between 0 and 2. If you think it exists and doesn't equal 1, then you find a place for it!
"Meanwhile, I'm going to find 10 mathematicians who agree with me."
I give my most solemn word that I will post an explanation on this blog that contradicts my claim if it
a) uses the standard real number system and
b) is verifiably written by a professor of mathematics at an accredited university.
I won't hold my breath waiting for that, though.

Other than the problem I have with criteria (b) above (argument from authority, although "removed" did sort of start that line of argument in an earlier post), I have no issues with this argument.  I see no personal attacks.  You can look at the post and comment thread for yourself here

Not only is it a cowardly way to end an argument, but "removed" really needs to think about what he's claiming.  Don't say things like "You may choose to use personal attacks, call me a fraud, a liar, and an idiot", when I can look back and see that none of those words, or anything like those words, have been used.  

The bit about atheists is equally asinine.  I don't think I need to tell anyone reading my blog regularly that most atheists are willing to have a conversation about the evidence for and against god, and try their best to stick to the arguments.  Even if "removed" had a legitimate point about his opponent, he shows complete ignorance on his part to make that comparison.  


Finally, even if "removed" had a legitimate point, he could still have continued his logical arguments. By saying he won't continue to argue because his opponent is closed-minded, he is showing that he's more concerned with converting someone than finding the truth.  


The more I think about this example, and the issue in general, I think its almost universally a bad idea to accuse your opponent of unwillingness to change one's mind, at least as your only retort to their arguments.  Anyone else have any input on this?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Cindy McCain and the NoH8 Campaign

The NoH8 campaign is a photo project and silent protest by photographer Adam Bouska and his partner in response to the passage of Proposition 8 in California.  It features people photoed with tape over their mouths and "NoH8" painted on their faces.  Many celebrities have participated.  Meghan McCain, daughter of Republican John McCain was photographed.  That's no surprise, she's been an outspoken gay rights advocate for a while now (one of the few Republicans I truly admire and respect).  What was a surprise was the Cindy McCain, John's wife, also posed for the photo project:





I had no idea that Cindy McCain felt this way.  I'm glad to see there are some Republicans who understand the importance of equality for all.  But while the Republicans are stereotyped as the anti-gay rights party, the Democrats don't fair any better.  One of my facebook friends made me aware of the fact that as of now, the McCain family has done more for gay rights than the Obama family has.  Obama has stated he does not support gay marriage, nor do Joe Biden and Hilary Clinton (at least publicly).  I don't know what to think about that. 

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Mr. Deity and Conan

If you haven't seen Mr. Deity before on YouTube, I highly recommend it.  Every episode is worth watching multiple times. 

The new episode is amazing, I had to post it:




(It's actually just a short bit, episodes are normally longer than this)

The punchline is so close to being really wrong...

Book Review: Why Does E = mc2?

So I spent the majority of the money I got for Christmas on books, because I'm a dork.  One that I was really excited to read was Why Does E = mc2? (and Why Should We Care?) by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw.  First, because I've seen Brian Cox on a number of TV specials talking about particle physics, and thought he was a really interesting guy.  And second, because I realized, when I saw the title, that I wanted to know how Einstein came up with his theories of relativity.

I knew a little bit about relativity and Einstein's theory before reading. I understood the basic idea of relativity: that there is no such thing as absolute motion.  For instance, I'm sitting on my couch right now writing a book review for my wildly popular blog, so it appears that I am not moving at all (v = 0).  But that's relative to the Earth.  The Earth (and me along with it) is rotating at 15o per hour (0.5km/sec), and revolving around the Sun at 30 km/sec.  And although from within the solar system, the Sun appears to be stationary, and thus an absolute reference for motion, the solar system is moving at 250 km/sec relative to the center of our Milky Way galaxy.  And the galaxy is also moving relative to the local cluster of galaxies.  All motion has to be measured relative to some other object (hence the name relativity).

I also understood that the equation E = mc2, from Einstein's theory of special relativity, means that mass and energy are essentially interchangable.  The mass of an object is the amount of latent energy within that object.  I also knew that Einstein's theories predicted that the speed of light (c) is constant, regardless of frame of reference, though I had a really hard time understanding how that worked, or how it was even possible.  I also knew very little about how Einstein figured all of this out.

After reading this book, I understand a lot about Einstein's process in discovering this immortal equation.  Cox and Forshaw do an excellent job describing the state of knowledge before Einstein, and how we get from there to knowing that E = mc2.  Each step of the process is explained intuitively, clearly and logically progressing from one idea to the next.  Each chapter reads like a story, without creating false drama or interest with useless tangents and distractions (for the most part, described below).

The explanations include useful analogies and examples, which allowed me to understand concepts that I never had a good grasp of before.  For example, they use the analogy of a motorcycle moving at a constant speed in different directions to explain what how space and time are related into a single medium called spacetime.  We can think of sitting still as moving only in the time dimension (moving completely north in the motorcycle example).  When we begin moving in space, we start to move in a more northeasterly direction, and as we speed up in space, we get closer to moving east.  But since the motorcycle is moving at a constant speed, when we move faster in space, we must also be moving slower in the time direction, meaning time slows down for someone moving fast. I've read a number of books and articles about all of this, and this was the first time I felt like I grokked spacetime.  (That's right, a Stranger in a Strange Land reference!)  All of the threads really started to come together for me while reading the examples used in the book.

That's not to say the book is without problems.  Cox and Forshaw try to simplify the math throughout the book, in order to make it accessible to those of us who aren't physicists or mathematicians.  While the sentiment is good, and I'm sure it made the book more readable for some, I had a hard time understanding some of the proofs they presented with words, rather than math.  It meant that they had to explain their proof with several pages of text, rather than a few compact equations.  This also meant diagrams that should make understanding the concepts easier, were difficult to use because of constantly flipping pages back and forth to refer to them throughout a multi-page explanation. 

Other simplifications require readers to simply trust that some equality holds, or some next step makes sense, without explaining the proof in enough detail to convince me.  If you're willing to take a few things for granted, its easy to follow the logical conclusion, and understand the progression of the proofs.  However, there are a number of cases where I can't know for sure how some of the steps came about, and whether they really reasonably follow.

For example, they show that if spacetime follows the rules of Euclidean geometry, the rules of cause and effect can be violated, which is a big problem.  They use the Pythagorean theorem (a2 + b2 = c2), which holds in Euclidean geometry, to explain how this works, and it was easy to understand and very enlightening.  However, they then make the seemingly random step of changing the plus sign in the Pythagorean theory to a minus sign, resulting in (a2 - b2 = c2), and associating this new equation with Minkowski spacetime, which is a geometry that is different from Euclid's, and as we can guess from its name ends up being the correct geometry for describing how spacetime works.  But they neglect to explain how they came about making this change, or why this equation is relevant to Minkowski spacetime.  If we take this manipulation of Pythagoras for granted, the rest of the discussion shows why this equation does not violate any cause and effects laws, and the discussion is interesting and enlightening once again.

While many of the figures are useful, none of them contain captions that describe what's going on, and usually are referred to in the text three or four pages after the figure is shown, making them very difficult to understand. There is also a chapter near the end of the book, called The Origin of Mass, which seemed like a tangent, not really related to the rest of the book.  It's as though Cox and Forshaw wanted to talk about their own research on the Higgs boson particle, regardless of its relevance to this book.  It was certainly an interesting discussion, it just seemed misplaced.

Although the book certainly isn't perfect, I still highly recommend it to anyone interested in physics, and how the cosmos works at the most fundamental levels.  While there are still some holes in my knowledge about how we know that E = mc2, my understanding of the basic thought process by Einstein and his contemporaries has increased immensely after reading this book.

I think the best thing about this book, is that it clears up many of the misconceptions about how Einstein made his discoveries.  Einstein is often thought of by the general public as someone who sat in a room, thinking to himself, and came up with E = mc2 out of thin air.  Cox and Forshaw show that Einstein relied on previous knowledge in physics, such as the work of Faraday and Maxwell.  He also relied heavily on mathematics (despite the urban legends about his poor math skills) and observations made in the real world.  Einstein is famous for using thought experiments, such as thinking about what it would be like to ride a beam of light.  But these thought experiments are only a small step, which initiated his research, which involed a lot of real work.  I think that this book is a much better example of how real science works for aspiring young scientists, or even just the average person, than the urban legends of an isolated Einstein pulling theories and equations out of nowhere.

Why Does E = mc2? is both widely accessible and mind-expanding; a rare and welcome combination in popular science literature.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Proof of an afterlife?

Dr. Jeffrey Long has evidence of the afterlife...

If by evidence, you mean the same anecdotal stories about near-death experiences (NDEs) that everyone else presents, along with a flawed conclusion:

In the book, Long contends his study shows that accounts of near-death experiences play out remarkably similarly among the people who have had them, crossing age and cultural boundaries to such a degree that they can’t be chalked up simply to everyone having seen the same Hollywood movie.

I know of no one who suggests NDEs are solely due to cultural norms.  We know that people have similar experiences when they are near death.  But this only proves that death causes similar experiences in the brain.  And given that we have similar experiences, it is no surprise that people in different cultures recount similar NDE stories.  The experience is no proof that an afterlife exists.

In fact, other circumstances can cause similar experiences, even when the person is not really near death.  Lack of oxygen to the brain causes hallucinations, peacefulness, and feelings of flying (similar to stories of out of body experiences).  We also know that activity in the right temporal lobe can cause many of the classic elements of NDEs (bright lights, peacefulness, false memories, presence of God, etc.). A host of other natural explanations for NDEs exist as well.

Given that we have several possible natural explanations for NDEs, and that similar experiences occur due to naturally occurring phenomenon which likely occur during a near death episode (lack of oxygen to the brain, activity in the frontal lobe, etc.), suggests the the supernatural explanation is less likely to be true.  Scientists have not conclusively shown which of these phenomena are the cause of NDEs, but its would be quite a coincidence if NDEs were some distinct supernatural phenomenon from the given natural explanation, given the overlap.



Also see Penn and Teller discussing NDEs on Bullshit here.


There is also a poll on the website asking the question "Do you believe in an afterlife?"  It appears to already be in the process of Pharyngulation.  I guess PZ has already written about this story.


EDIT:  I should have linked to Dr. Long's book: Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Happy Martin Luther King Day

To celebrate, learn something you may not know about the man:

http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=2269

Here's an teaser:
What TV viewers see is a closed loop of familiar file footage: King battling desegregation in Birmingham (1963); reciting his dream of racial harmony at the rally in Washington (1963); marching for voting rights in Selma, Alabama (1965); and finally, lying dead on the motel balcony in Memphis (1968).

An alert viewer might notice that the chronology jumps from 1965 to 1968. Yet King didn't take a sabbatical near the end of his life. In fact, he was speaking and organizing as diligently as ever.

Almost all of those speeches were filmed or taped. But they're not shown today on TV.

Why?

It's because national news media have never come to terms with what Martin Luther King Jr. stood for during his final years.

I found it fascinating, and it makes me want to learn even more about the last years of Dr. King's life.   

SMBC Love

Two awesome comic strips up on SMBC this week:

First, how science education affects belief in a god:



Then, a hole in the theory of the upcoming Singularity (as proposed by Ray Kurzweil):


I love graphs...

Storm, the animated movie

This is cool, Tim Minchin's poem Storm (which I posted on my blog earlier, but it appears the video is no longer up on YouTube), is being made into an animated movie by Fraser Davidson.  There's a trailer up, and it looks awesome:







I love that joke:

Do you know what they call alternative medicine that's been proved to work?

Medicine.

Can't wait to see the whole thing.

There's a blog about the movie here, which has some character art and early test animations, which are cool to see.  I'll certainly link to the movie when its completed.

UPDATE:

Here's another version of the original Storm performance, that hasn't been taken down on YouTube:





YouMuslimNeighbor.com pulls through

In an earlier post, I mentioned YourMuslimNeighbor.com, and that I had requested a free copy of the Qur'an.  I got it in the mail a few days ago:




Apparently the person at YourMuslimNeighbor.com didn't realize they've just sent their holy book to a filthy heathen.  The first step in master plan is complete! My master plan to...

Read the Qur'an critically, and blog about it!!!  (GASPS OF HORROR)

I've already read the Bible, with the help from the Bible in 90 Days Challenge last summer.  The challenge's reading schedule is highly recommended if you're interested in reading the Bible.  It was really helpful to have a goal every day, and I was able to push through even the most brutally boring parts of the book (Chronicles, anyone?).  Note that I didn't buy any of the extra materials, the schedule and other resources is available online in PDF format here (on the right side of the page). 

I've found something similar for the Qur'an.  Apparently, Muslims are expected to read the entire Qur'an during the month of Ramadan.  So the Qur'an is broken down into 30 equal sections, called a juz' (plural: ajiza), to help keep them on track.  I'll use this guide to try and read the Qur'an in 30 days as well.  I'll probably start in a few days, once I finish the book I'm currently in the middle of reading: Why Does E=mc2? by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw, which I plan on reviewing on the blog too.  I thought it would be cool to actually read the Qur'an during Ramadan, but that doesn't happen in the U.S. until August 11th or 12th (my birthday, woo!) this year, and I don't want to wait that long.

As you can see in the picture, they also sent me some extra material with the Qur'an, describing what to expect while reading the Qur'an, the prayers and other daily rituals of practicing Muslims, and what the Qur'an says about Jesus.  Jesus actually takes up about 5 pages of the brochure, which suggests their target audience is Christians and other Jesus fans.  Not to compelling for me, but I suppose I'm less likely to buy into their message anyway. They also make a big deal of the fact that Muslims believe that other prophets, before Muhammad, are also messengers of God, including Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus:

It is an article of faith for Muslims to believe in all of the Scriptures revealed by God.
 
To me, this seems to call into question the other message that stuck out to me: that Islam is logical and values critical thinking:

  • God is All Compassionate and All Merciful, an therefore the way of life He has decreed for humanity is logical and easy to understand.
  • There are so many signs and wonders in this universe that allow us to appreciate the miraculous creation of God Almighty.  Through observation and critical thinking, we can learn about God and see His mercy and supreme design in action.  It is one of our duties to reflect and ponder upon the natural world.
  • God has blessed humanity with intellect and sound reasoning.

Given that Muslims accept matters based on faith (the Scriptures are only one example), it is hard to believe that they can really value true, critical thinking.  And the fact that they accept the Old and New Testament specifically also calls their judgment into question off the bat.  But I'm willing to as open-minded as possible while reading the Qur'an.

So stay tuned for my thoughts on the Qur'an over the next month!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Did you mean...?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Search/Fulfilled_religious_prophecies

As a bonus, the link is quite an interesting resource.


This also reminds me of the old Google joke about the French military:

http://www.albinoblacksheep.com/text/victories.html

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Pat Robertson on Haiti

Of course we've all seen the horrific earthquake in Haiti, killing many thousands (possibly over 100,000), and leaving the country in ruins.  A number of my blogging peers have suggested a number of charities to donate to if you want to help (both secular and religious).

I would never suggest that this tragedy is a good thing, or that we can get something good out of it.  But I do like seeing atheists and theists put aside our differences when something like this happens.  Disagreements are put on hold, and we recognize that the most important thing right now is to do whatever we can to help those less fortunate. 

Then there's Pat Robertson:






"Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it.  They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III, or whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, we will serve you if you'll get us free from the French. True story. And so, the devil said, okay it's a deal."

This makes me wish so hard that Pat Robertson's house would just be hit by a tornado.  First, because it would be deserved and ironic.  Second, because I would love to hear his explanation.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Every creationist argument in 10 minutes

NonStampCollector neatly sums up the creationist argument in a 10 minute video:








My favorite line:  "Whales don't live for millions of years, Doctor Finch!"

Thursday, January 7, 2010

"A Loose Relationship with the Truth"

Abby Johnson was the director of the Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, Texas.  Then, she witnessed an ultrasound-assisted abortion, and saw the light.  She entered the Brazos Valley Coalition for Life office, which is one block west of a Planned Parenthood clinic, crying:

Johnson told Shawn Carney, [the Coalition's director], that she had been harboring doubts about her work at the clinic for some time. She felt she was being pressured by her supervisor at the regional affiliate to increase the number of abortions her clinic performed, to make up for declining revenues from the clinic’s family planning and women’s health services. “I could tell her mind was racing,” Carney recalled later. “She was giving a litany of reasons why she wanted out, and it was just almost verbatim of what you think someone who wants to leave the abortion industry would say: Her conscience had gotten to her, the abortion industry is about money, abortion is horrific." 

She left her job and became an anti-abortion activist.  Her conversion story has been fodder for the Christian right. She even got to hang out with Mike Huckabee!  It's like a dream come true for a born-again pro-lifer...

But there's a little problem:  she's a fucking liar.

Her claim that Planned Parenthood performs abortion for profit takes about two seconds worth of research to dispel, and her claim that she never felt threatened by anti-choicers is undermined by the fact that she had security cameras installed in her house. Blakeslee paints a compelling narrative of what likely happened: Johnson was being disciplined by her employers for poor job performance, and she got her revenge by switching sides, having heard daily promises from protesters that they would find her another job. And now Johnson enjoys the myriad benefits of being on Team Fetus that you don't get when you actually have to work hard to help people—making a bunch of speeches composed of nothing but anti-choice talking points means getting praise and validation without much work at all. Johnson admits to having more fun with this easier lifestyle and glowing under all the praise and attention.

But the biggest coup of Blakeslee's exposé centers around the conversion story itself. Pro-choicers have always been suspicious of Johnson's claim that she saw an ultrasound-assisted abortion and then saw the light. This sort of story seems ripped straight from anti-choice propaganda and doesn't really owe much to the daily life of a clinic worker in the real world. But this turns out to be more true than even the most cynical of us could have imagined. Blakeslee examines Planned Parenthood's records on the day that Johnson claims to have seen this abortion performed, and found no evidence of an ultrasound abortion. When he asked her to describe the patient, she said she was a black woman, and Blakeslee discovered that the only black patient to have an abortion that day was at six weeks, not 13, as Johnson described.

So much for that bearing false witness thing...

As Amanda Marcotte at Double X has already said, it's no surprise the an anti-choice activist has "a loose relationship with the truth."  It's stuff like this that shows how morally bankrupt and unprincipled the anti-abortion movement is.  They rely on emotion, rhetoric, and too-good-to-be-true stories, rather than reasoned arguments and discussion of the real ethical issues.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Wile E. Coyote

Two of my favorite things:  Road runner cartoons and Seth Macfarlane!  Came across this video from Seth Macfarlane's Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy:


Road Runner Funny Clip - The best bloopers are here


via http://www.religiouspeoplearefunny.com

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

More short, pithy blog posts I enjoyed today

This time it's Jim Gardner at How Good is That?, via reddit:

I have never had a gay person attempt to recruit me, convert me, accost me, evangelise me, restrict my freedoms or deny me my rights as a human being. Nor have any supposedly 'morally corrupt' groups. In fact I can think of only one group which does...

Bite Me. We Win.

I enjoyed this short and sweet post by Phil Plait over at Bad Astronomy:

I just wanted to post this graph, which I found while researching vaccinations.

measles_incidence
Antivaxxers: bite me*. We win.



* Of course, antivaxxers would never bite me. Since I’m fully vaccinated, they might get autism or mercury poisoning or accidentally catch my reality cooties.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Iranian Soccer Federation Sends New Year's Greeting to Israel

This is just bizzare...

The head of Iran's soccer federation issued a public apology and a member of his staff resigned after the federation mistakenly sent a New Year's greeting to its counterpart in Israel, Iranian officials announced Sunday.

Kaffashian said Iran's soccer league routinely sends New Year's greetings to all members of FIFA, the sport's global federation, except for Israel. Iran does not recognize Israel, which it dismisses as the "Zionist entity," and the two countries' teams do not meet in international competitions.

To whom are they apologizing?  "Sorry we accidentally broke the childish silent treatment we have been giving Israel..."  Most of us grew out of this bullshit after the second grade.  How can anyone take this seriously? 

They should apologize for the nonsensical violence and hatred toward Jews that goes on in their country.  (Israelis should also apologize for similar hatred of Muslims in their country, of course, but we all know neither will happen anytime soon, so it's moot anyway.)

Insensitive?

I bought a copy of Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali for my fiancée over Christmas break from a local Borders bookstore, because she had read a previous blog post and was interested in the book.  She began reading it, and found a small post-it note inserted, with the message:

GET YOUR FREE QURAN
www.YourMuslimNeighbor.com

I went to the site, and its the standard "We want you to become a Muslim so you can share our joy" kind of nonsense.  I actually signed up for one.  I've been meaning to read the Quran anyway, and getting a free copy costs these people some money that they could be using on other people, who may be less adept at thinking critically. 

At first, I just thought it was funny.  It's obvious the person who put it there had no idea what the book was about (or was too stupid to think it through thoroughly).  Imagine reading about the treatment of Ms. Ali at the hands of her Muslim family and community as a child, and her need for protection from Islamists today in the Netherlands, of all places.  Then imagine finding this note in the middle of the book and thinking "Yeah, I should give Islam a try!"  I'm sure the person who put the note there practices a more benign, peaceful version of Islam, but its certainly not the best place to convince your audience that it's worth a shot.

But thinking about it, I'm starting feel a little bit angry about it.  What would you think if you were reading a copy of Night by Elie Weisel, or Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, and you found a note that said something like:

DID THE HOLOCAUST REALLY HAPPEN?
www.MyIdioticTheoryAboutTheHolocaust.com

I think most would find this genuinely offensive.  Think about the people who might read her book.  Certainly there would be people who went through what Ali experienced, or have some other emotional connection with her plight.  And you're trying to convince them that Islam is A-OK?  It's one thing to advertise your own idiotic theory in general, but to hide it in a place like this seems in poor taste.   I certainly support free speech, even when its insensitive and obviously not well thought out.  But I can still be annoyed by it.

Of course if the person didn't know the subject matter of Infidel, they didn't mean to be offensive.  But shouldn't you at least get a passing familiarity with the subject matter of the book before blindly putting your own advertisement in it?  They at least thought about it, since they were obviously targeting infidels, given the title of the book.  I doubt those notes were in books having nothing to do with religion, or in any of the Christian Bibles.  (Could you imagine the uproar if some zealous Christian found that note in one of their precious Bibles?)

Then again, sometimes I tend to over-think these things, and I have periods where I feel like I might be overreacting.  Am I being too sensitive here?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Irish Blasphemy Laws

Yesterday, the Irish blasphemy laws went into effect, making it illegal to say anything about a religion that causes “outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion.”

Atheist Ireland, however, is already challenging the law, posting 25 blasphemous quotes from a myriad of sources, from Jesus to George Carlin:

15. George Carlin, 1999: “Religion easily has the greatest bullshit story ever told. Think about it. Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time! But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can’t handle money! Religion takes in billions of dollars, they pay no taxes, and they always need a little more. Now, talk about a good bullshit story. Holy Shit!”

It amazes me that while all of the horrific acts committed by the Catholic Church in Ireland are being laid bare, this nonsense is going on.  It also makes me realize that in 2010, nonreligious causes have made huge strides, but there still is a long way to go.  I sincerely hope this law is challenged and defeated swiftly.

I'll leave you with another blasphemous quote about blasphemy itself (a meta-blasphemous quote?):

This crime called blasphemy was invented by priests for the purpose of defending doctrines not able to take care of themselves
-Robert Ingersoll

Happy new year, let's not get complacent.