Thursday, August 1, 2013

Homecoming countdown: Maramec, Oklahoma

The preparations to move back to what I consider my hometown are still under way. Progress is being made even if it is slower than I would like.

In the progress of preparations for my move, I found a video about the ghost town that is Maramec, Oklahoma. To me, these images are haunting. I recognize almost everything that is displayed there. I even lived within a few hundred feet of many of these pictures.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Enemies of science

Science always seems to be under attack. Basic scientific teaching has been under attack by creationists since evolution was first discovered. The only thing that has changed with time is that even more science is under attack from various directions.

Social, behavioral and economic (SBE) science research is the latest target by conservative Republicans. It seems like they are beginning to make have an effect on the budgets, and therefore the research, of the various sciences.

Roll Call reports on the cuts led by people like Tom Coburn (R-OK). They even include a plausible reason why they are making those cuts:
Despite such obvious benefits, critics of SBE (social, behavioral, and economic) programs have asserted that they provide few societal returns and are rife with examples of frivolous research. But there might be a more insidious reason for such opposition: a conviction that SBE research outcomes will not conform to conservative ideology.
The longer our nation operates by trying to ignore basic scientific research in order to meet nearsighted conservative goals, the more danger our nation is in of falling behind the rest of the world and seeing our economy reliant on other countries' prosperity. If that happens, we won't have anyone to blame but the rest of the idiot Americans.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Inhofe's Christian Crime Connection

While Sen Jim Inhofe (R-OK) might not have a formal Christian crime ring, his actions would make more sense if he did. I can almost imagine him saying something like, "Nice planet you got there. It'd be a shame if something happened to it."

I generally believe that there isn't anything inherently wrong with being a Christian. While I feel confident that Christians are wrong in their beliefs, I also don't feel like those beliefs steer them in a heinous direction. People can generally be good with or without god. It has to do more with someone's moral grounding which is mostly shared by the religious and non-religious. But Jim Inhofe gives a perfect example of why there is still a danger to the world from Christianity.

In a response to The News on 6 in Oklahoma, Inhofe said:
"The book of Genesis tells us that the cold and heat, summers and winters will not cease, and I believe the God who spoke these words is still up there and in control. We have seen environmentalists disregarded the term 'global warming' and adopt the phrase 'climate change,' because there will be cold, there will be heat, there will be summer and there will be winter, but the earth shall not cease. Furthermore, more than 60 percent of weathercasters recently polled for a study done by George Mason University believe that any global warming that occurs is the result of 'natural variation' and not 'human activities.' There is no question that we should be good stewards of what God has given us, but the global warming alarmists are using gloom-and-doom, fear-based tactics to advance their environmentalist agenda which will eliminate job opportunities and slow economic growth."
You can see my reply to his disingenuous portrayal of "weathercasters" (that would be meteorologists) and how he tries to misrepresent climate science on my blog, here. But the thing that stands out about this statement is the total lack of science, reason, or understanding.

He is absolutely wrong on climate change. Climate science is based on known scientific principles. There is no question about the science. What remains is an obvious example of using religion to damage the world and the people in it.

Jim Inhofe gives us the perfect example of where the usage of religion has gone wrong. This is exactly the type of danger that religion poses to the rest of the world. Ultimately it doesn't even matter whether he believes what he is saying or not. The simple fact that there are people out there that will believe what he is saying because of their shared religion is what makes him and religious people like him as dangerous as someone actively trying to destroy the world and everything the human race has built.

Slap a generator on that spin

I can't help but wonder whether Jim Inhofe actually believes the things he says or not. If he believes the things he says then he is one dangerous person to have in political power. If he doesn't, then he is even more dangerous because he has no interest in the truth or the people that the truth will hurt.

In a statement Jim Inhofe gave to the U.S. Senate Comitee on Environment and Public Works: "Climate Change: It’s Happening Now." he said:
Most meteorologists agree [with Allison MacFarlane, when she was asked about whether she thought the tornadoes in Oklahoma or Hurricane Sandy were extreme weather events, she said, “I would not call these events extreme. I would call them normal."]. A recent study by George Mason University reported that 63% of weathercasters believe that any global warming that occurs is the result of “natural variation” and not “human activities.” That is a significant two-to-one majority.
Here is a quote from the study (pdf) that Sen. Inhofe is referring to:
Weathercasters hold a wide range of beliefs about global warming.
Survey participants responded to a variety of questions assessing their beliefs in and attitudes about “global warming,” questions that have been used previously in our public opinion research. More than half of our respondent (54%) indicated that global warming is happening, 25% indicated it isn’t, and 21% say
they don’t know yet. About one-third (31%) reported that global warming is caused mostly by human activities, while almost two-thirds (63%) reported it is caused mostly by natural changes in
the environment. Half indicated that they have thought “a lot” about global warming, and a large majority said they are fairly or very well informed about the causes of global warming (93%), the consequences of global warming (89%), and the ways to reduce global warming (86%)—numbers that are much higher than public responses to the same questions. Over half of weathercasters indicated that humans could reduce global warming (58%), and that the U.S. should reduce greenhouse gas emissions regardless of what other countries do (63%). Almost half (47%) felt they needed some or a lot more information before forming a firm opinion about global warming, and almost one-third (30%) said they could easily change their mind about global warming. Just over one quarter (27%) agreed with the statement by a prominent TV weathercaster: “global warming is a scam.”
The picture that the study paints -- even the paragraph that Sen. Inhofe quote mined -- shows that meteorologists are geared more toward doing something about global climate change (or global warming if you prefer) than are geared toward ignoring it. And only about one in four think that "global warming is a scam".

But there is more to this study than that. The study was done to gauge what the meteorologists knew about global climate change. It is climate scientists that are doing the science on global climate change, not meteorologists. This was a study to see if the meteorologists were keeping up with what the climate scientists were learning. And while the study shows that the meteorologists are better informed as a group that the average American citizen, they still have a long way to go.

The very next paragraph from the study demonstrates the problem. Sen. Inhofe would have been much more truthful to report this:
Only one third of TV weathercasters believe that there is a scientific consensus on climate change. Despite the strong scientific consensus among climate scientists, almost two-thirds (61%) of TV weathercasters think there is a lot of disagreement among scientists about whether or not global warming is happening. Perhaps partly as a result, 79% of our respondents indicated that coverage of climate change science must reflect a “balance” of viewpoints just as coverage of political or social issues are covered. Prior research conducted by others, however, has shown that “balanced” news coverage about climate change is misleading in that it tends to give audience members the false impression that there is a lot of disagreement among scientists about whether or not global warming is happening.
Yes, global warming is happening. The science of the cause of global warming isn't new. The science has been well understood for quite some time. Greenhouse gasses make the atmosphere warmer. No one except the scientifically illiterate and the completely deluded would deny that. The deeper Jim Inhofe digs trying to find reputable people that believe the same way as he does, the more he will look like the bottom feeder that he is.

But you don't have to take my word for it. The study (pdf) isn't that long, and the findings aren't difficult to understand. Go read the study and you will discover just how much Jim Inhofe has to quote out of context to even bend the non-scientists to his viewpoint.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Nokia, the best hardware you will never buy

Everyone seems quick to jump on the blame-anyone-but-Nokia-for-their-problems train, but I think the burden of Nokia's problems fall squarely on their shoulders.

Forbes reports:
I’ve been carrying a yellow Lumia 920 for about 8 months now and it is easy to spot in my purse. The battery life is spectacular compared to the phone it replaced.  The screen is easy to see and read.  Turn it 90 degrees and you can even read it with polarizing sunglasses when outside. Yellow was the theme of the day right down to yellow converse sneakers. Great excitement greeted the demonstration and the jaded journalists there applauded at different features. It was clear the phone was impressive and a hit.
And later in the article, they report:
It is hard to believe that Stephen Elop has now been at NOK for almost three years. He was correct in his initial assessment that the company was standing on the oft quoted ” burning platform” and needed to take drastic action.  He jettisoned almost all the company had left including its Symbian platform that was incapable of moving Nokia into the evolving future .  His options were really to become 1. another “me,too” Android offering or 2. to attempt to build an entirely new ecosystem around the Windows platform. Elop chose the later, tougher path but the only one which offered any chance of winning long term with something unique. Now that Samsung is so dominating the Android universe, by now any attempt at another Android phone would have left no hope for Nokia at all.
Which one is it? Is the phone hardware so great that it puts the phone in a class by itself, or is the software that needs to be different in order for them to build their own class?

I admit that I am bias. I was a faithful user of Nokia products up until they could no longer provide the features I needed on their phones.

Where I live we still suffer from spotty coverage due to the enormous distance between towns. Short of putting in cellular towers that support only one or two subscribers, you are going to find dead spots. When this happens, you want a handset that will be made to the most exacting quality so that it can get a signal when no other handset will. Those handsets were always Nokia.

I used Nokia handsets long after they had gone out of style simply because they were incredibly rugged and able to make calls where every other phone failed. I eventually had to give them up for a modern phone.

When Nokia had to choose between Android and Windows Mobile, I was really hoping they would choose Android. I knew that Nokia had the very best hardware, but I also wanted the very best software to go along with it. The software that I wanted was Android. They were the only ones that had a chance of getting the apps to compete with Apple.

Things haven't changed since then. You either use an Apple or an Android phone. There is no one else that has the apps, consumer backing, developer backing to make a splash in today's market.

When Nokia was making its decision, it had a place in the market. It was, and arguably still is, the best hardware manufacturer on the market today. If they hadn't hobbled themselves with software that no one is willing to use, it might be them as the leading Android manufacturer instead of Samsung. As it is, they manufacture the best hardware that no one will buy.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Gun visibility to save a life?

I, like many people in the United States, have been thinking about the George Zimmerman/Trevon Martin confrontation. I wonder what kind of a culture we have created when society tells black boys and men that they must actively work to save their own lives at all times. I weep at the thought of the tension being so great between people of color and the police that people of color follow different rules from the rest of us when they are pulled over. I am dumfounded that a person can be considered suspicious for simply walking or driving no differently than someone that has a much lower volume of melanin in their skin.

I also wonder what would have needed to be different for the tragedy to be avoided, and apparently I'm not the only one. Ryan Grim, at the Huffington Post, wrote about six (or seven) things that could have changed the outcome of the Zimmerman/Martin encounter.

I was initially expecting the list to be things that Trevon Martin should have done differently. After all, it seems that society expects people of color to act impossibly innocent or be considered guilty by birth. What I didn't suspect was a rational list of what could have (and should have) been done to avoid an innocent death.

One of the things that jumped out at me was this suggestion:
4. If Zimmerman's weapon had not been hidden, Martin probably would have dealt with him differently.
When a man follows another, tensions rise. One way or another, those tensions led to a physical confrontation. But if Florida law barred concealed carry, Martin would have been able to see that Zimmerman was armed. Zimmerman defenders suspect Martin threw the first punch. But even if that's true, would he have done so if he knew Zimmerman was carrying a loaded weapon?
I live in the heart of gun culture. Every type of firearm that can legally be owned -- and some that can't be legally owned -- are all around me. It isn't uncommon for me to visit with someone that has an AK-47 in the front seat of their vehicle. In fact, there are very few vehicles on the road that don't have some kind of firearm in them. But the thought of switching from concealed carry permits to open carry permits simply for safety reasons? I hadn't thought of that.

I realize that open carry brings on a different set of problems. When someone is carrying a firearm in the open it is much more likely to be taken away from them. That could put them and those around them in more danger from people bent on committing acts of violence. At the same time, people that aren't intent on committing acts of violence can see that the person carrying a firearm is actually supporting a dangerous and potentially unstable condition through their choices.

I hate the thought of open carry laws being the best solution to protect ourselves from the gun nuts, but perhaps that is what we are reduced to. It would have probably saved at least one innocent life, and it could hardly make things more dangerous for the people of color that just want to live their lives in peace.

Of course there is a better solution. We could have better safety laws for firearms, better background checks, and fewer concealed or open carry laws. We could update our expectations from the wild west and bring society into the modern age. We could set up a society where everyone doesn't have to look at their fellow humans and wonder whether they are out to kill them or not.

Hmm, that seems like the best solution to me. Let's make a society where we are all safe and we don't have to fear that our neighbors are out to kill us. Let's create a society where firearms aren't brandished as a sign to tell those around us that we are ready, able, and willing to kill them regardless of whether it is right or wrong. It may be true that if George Zimmerman had telegraphed his intentions to kill Trevon Martin by openly carrying his gun that Trevon Martin might be alive today. But the better solution is to remove the gun from the equation all together.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Obamacare and the employers

It is frustrating to hear Republicans complaining about what Obamacare is going to do for the people in the future. Brevard Times has an article that gives us a perfect example to work with:
“Gatorland has 135 full-time employees. Gatorland currently pays 80 percent of the insurance cost for these employees," [U.S. Senator (R-FL) Marco] Rubio said. "But now under ObamaCare, evidently what they are doing is not going to be enough.  ObamaCare, first of all, requires them not just to provide insurance but to provide for them a certain type of insurance, a type of insurance that the government has decided is enough."
If this is indeed the case, then I suspect that the insurance that is being provided for the employees is virtually worthless.

My company provides me with what's called Mini-medical insurance. It has a relatively high deductible and a yearly cap on what it will pay. In addition, it won't cover many of the procedures I might find myself needing from a doctor or hospital.

I might have an insurance card in my purse, and it gives me less blank lines when I'm filling out paperwork for the doctor, but many hospitals put my in the category of uninsured because the insurance is so restricted. I could easily do better by paying my own medical bills without the insurance provided by my employer; the money I would save on premiums would more than pay for the substandard coverage provided by my insurance company.

One thing that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) does is to eliminate mini-medical insurance from the offerings. Since mini-medical isn't enough to actually help anyone, there is no point in pretending like it does. Obamacare is essentially telling employers that they have to provide real insurance instead of smoke and mirror policies.

The working people of America need real medical care, not the scraps that some employer decides they will throw our way. If we are going to end the cycle of sick people skipping care until they have to go the emergency room and leave the debt to the hospital, then we have to provide workers with something that will actually pay for their medical care. Any employer that wants to provide their employees with less is simply taking advantage of other people's needs so they can line their own pockets.

Obamacare didn't go far enough, but it is the best that we have right now. If the politicians (I'm looking at you Republicans) actually wanted to help the American people, they should be looking at how to get people even better insurance instead of trying to eliminate the progress we are making toward a better, and more healthy future for everyone.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Textual gems: Tiffanie Drayton


I survived because I was never able to make America my home. I never watched my childhood neighborhood become whitened by helicopter lights in search of criminals or hipsters in search of apartments. No state, city or town has been a mother to me, cradling generations of my family near her bosom, to then be destroyed by unemployment or poverty. No school system had the time or opportunity to relegate me to “remedial,” “rejected” or “unteachable.” I never accepted the misogynistic, drug-infested, stripper-glamorizing, hip-hop culture that is force-fed to black youths through square tubes. I am not a product of a state of greatness but a byproduct of emptiness.
It would be so easy to make others a part of our American family. If we could just get past the othering of people, we might create a country where the people we are are discarding could make the country great again.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

You can't rely on Satan any more than God

The recent hubbub out of Texas has demonstrated that the Satanic church is split on moral issues as Yahweh's church.

The New York Post reports:

On the one hand you have the High Priest of the New York-based Church of Satan saying that Satanists are firmly in the pro-choice camp, according to a CNN report.
This seems like a pretty unambiguous statement to me. But this statement isn't the end. Just a little further down in the article a different branch (if it actually exists) has the following to say:
A few days later the UK Satanists expanded on their views.

    Why wouldn't Satanism be pro-life? What else is there? We are all free to make choices. Agreeable or not. Everyone is entitled to choice.
Hmm. This is a tough choice indeed. It seems exceedingly difficult to determine exactly where nonexistent entities stand on the various issues. I guess we'll just have to settle for our own human morality and make the gods come down here and explain for themselves if they have different opinions.

Link: I can't believe they said that on TV

They must be getting their information from Bart Simpson.

Video of pilots names.

Link: how ethnic groups are voting

This New York Times opinion piece gives a breakdown of how the different groups are voting:

"Despite occasional attempts to widen its appeal, the GOP has effectively defined itself as the party of white Christians — and there are still a lot of historical memories that go with that definition."

Link: Malala speaks at the UN

We would all do good to have even a portion of the bravery and spirit of Malala.

From USA Today:

"My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same and my dreams are the same," she said. "I am not against anyone. Nor am I here to speak against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. I am here to speak up for the right to education of every child."

Friday, July 12, 2013

Who shouldn't allow whom in the restroom

I didn't want to write about this. I want to ignore it like I have in the past, but my mind just won't let me. The misunderstandings inflicted upon trans people by the general population is staggering, and it doesn't seem to be getting better. There is even an argument to be made that the treatment of trans people is getting worse as the public becomes more and more aware of us and it is more difficult to just be left alone to go about our lives.

LGBTQ Nation is reporting that Alex Wilson, a nursing assistant going to school to become a licensed practical nurse, has been threatened to be jailed and kicked out of the nursing program if she continues to use the restroom congruent with her gender.

Until Monday, Wilson said she has been using the women’s facilities, but that came to an end after another student complained to the school’s administration, reported WFLA-TV.

Wilson said she was pulled out of class and told her alternatives: “If I continue to use the female restroom that I would have charges pressed against me. And that because of that I would be removed from the program as a nurse.”

The thing that bothers me so much about this is the implicit idea that trans people are somehow the 'other' in all things. When we go to the bathroom, it can't be just to use the facilities, there must be some other reason. While most people won't put a reason on to it, the ones that do seem to think we use the restroom for sexual gratification instead of out of necessity.

The people that shouldn't be allowed in the restroom are the ones that sexualize the thought of using the restroom and then try to use the power of the state to prevent other people from carrying out a biologically necessary function. That's right: if no one has done anything out of the ordinary in the restroom and you still think you should complain about them? You are the one that needs to be restricted to a special, single occupancy restroom across campus.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Moving a house to make a home

Pat and I will be moving before too long. Neither one of us are much for upsetting our routine, but the time has come.

Pat and I live in a little shit-hole. The trailer park we live in looks like it has roads that were imported from Iraq just after operation 'Shock and Awe'. Some of the holes are large enough that they will swallow anything smaller than a midsized four wheel drive. You can forget about getting smaller down here.

But it isn't just the roads. Since we have been here we have replaced the electricity, air conditioner, water, and eventually the trailer house simply because the landlord wouldn't fix them. We did it because we didn't have any choice.

A little over ten years ago I inherited some land and we tried to move out trailer to it. Unfortunately the land was nothing more than pasture land. There weren't any utilities at all around the area. There was no electricity, water, sewer, or natural gas anywhere close to the property.

At the time, we thought we could afford to pay to have the utilities brought in and we could move. We were wrong.

We were told that the rural water lines were only about a quarter of a mile away when we were planning our budget. When we contacted the rural water company, we discovered that we had to bring the water about a mile to our property.

What could we do? We had to have water, and since the property was heavily drilled for oil, natural gas was extracted using fracking, and there were saltwater injection wells still running all over the property, we didn't want to take the chance of getting a good water well. Besides; regardless of how crazy it sounds, I like clean, tested, monitored, and fluoridated water.

The sewer system turned out to be just as problematic as the water. We were required to do a perc test prior to having a sewer system installed. It failed. Failing the perc test doesn't mean that you can't install a sewer system, it just means that you have to install an expensive system instead of one that relies on the natural absorption of the ground to function as disposal portion of the sewer system.

Finally we tried to install electricity on the place. I thought electricity would be easier since there was already electric lines on the property for oil wells. I was wrong. The electric lines that supply the oil wells potentially run at a different voltage and can't be used for residential electricity.

Electricity was the proverbial straw that broke the camels back. We were already out of money, we didn't have any utilities finished, we couldn't borrow anything from the bank because the land was undivided, and we still had to have thousands of dollars to move our trailer house. And that doesn't even begin to solve the logistical problem of where Pat and I would sleep when the trailer was in the process of being moved or where we would store our stuff since the trailer has to be empty to haul it.

With empty bank accounts and broken dreams, we were forced to stay right where we were.

Fast forward a little over ten years. We have given up television and every other luxury that we could to save money. Pat inherited a little bit of money from her family. We paid off every bill that we had. The had the land that I inherited divided so we have a clear deed on it. We saved enough for a down payment. And we are building on all the partial work that we had to abandon over ten years ago. The end result is that we should be moving in about three weeks.

Moving is going to take every penny that we have, and working with contractors that can't give firm estimates for costs is a little frightening. We ran out of money before and had to give up on the move. If things fall apart this time, we won't live long enough to move to our place.

On top of that, we don't have the money to finish everything like it should be finished. There is no money to fence the yard from the rest of the cow pasture, and there is no money to pay for skirting, porches and ramps will have to wait, and the driveway will remain mud and clay.

None of the downsides matter to me. Pat's health won't stand a move if we wait too much longer. I also suspect that if we can actually get out there, we will be able to finish the rest of the work over a period of time. Getting out there is our last hope and dream. Moving takes the place of every vacation we skipped; years of television, movie theaters, and restaurants; and any perks that couldn't be paid for from pocket change.

Pat feels like this is her last chance to get to our place where she can live in peace. I would try to steal the stars if it would put a sparkle in her eyes. Dreams don't die easily. We will move out there or we will go broke trying.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Kansas insurers threaten to pull coverage from schools over firearms

USA Today is reporting that Kansas is having trouble finding insurance for schools that allow firearms in schools.

"Insurers simply don't know how to price the added risk yet, he said, but they know it's there."

So far it seems like none of the schools are allowing teachers or janitors to carry firearms in school. Let's hope they keep it that way for r the students' sake.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Is your mobile data being sold?

Tech Crunch has an article about changes to AT&T's privacy policy. They are thinking about selling your data to advertisers. Little did I realize that all the other major mobile phone carriers were already selling your data.

This isn't the end of the world, I suppose. It's nothing like what the NSA is doing, but it is one more drop in the bucket and erodes our privacy just a little bit more. The good news is that it's easy to opt out. All you have to do is follow the link to your phone company (all the major carriers are included) and add your choice to not participate in their program.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Tim Huelskamp Introduces Anti-Marriage Constitutional Amendment

Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) introduced a bill that he hopes will change the US Constitution to better represent his anti-gay views. Of course there is no chance that, in today's climate, the Constitution could ever be amended in such a way.

As near as I can tell, the main purpose for the bill is to give Rep. Huelskamp something to show the voters back home. It also provides a vehicle for other like-minded politicians to tout their anti-gay views for their constituents.  The Huffington Post has the following Representatives listed as cosponsors:

... Its cosponsors include Republican Reps. Joe Barton (Texas), Jim Bridenstine (Okla.), Mo Brooks (Ala.), Paul Broun (Ga.), Jeff Duncan (S.C.), John Fleming (La.), Trent Franks (Ariz.), Louie Gohmert (Texas), Ralph Hall (Texas), Andy Harris (Md.), Randy Hultgren (Ill.), Sam Johnson (Texas), Walter Jones (N.C.), Jim Jordan (Ohio), James Lankford (Okla.), Mark Meadows (N.C.), Randy Neugebauer (Texas), Steven Palazzo (Miss.), Stevan Pearce (N.M.), Robert Pittenger (N.C.), Joe Pitts (Pa.), David Schweikert (Ariz.), Bill Shuster (Pa.), Chris Smith (N.J.), Steve Stockman (Texas), Tim Walberg (Mich.), Lynn Westmoreland (Ga.) and Frank Wolf (Va.)

Including Rep. Huelskamp himself, that makes the map of elected officials seeking to write their own prejudicial views into the US Constitution looking something like this:

The red area isn't limited to the Bible belt, even if it includes most of it. Nor is the red area limited to the South, again, even if it includes most of it. What it does show us is the place where we, the people for equality, need to do the most work. Here is where they are still electing anti-equality legislatures. Here is where we need the most help from the kind, decent, and caring people to help bring the entire United States into the light of freedom for all.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The House divided and fractured

I knew that the Republican party was fractured, but I never really thought about it from this perspective (Washington Post).

"Others point to the effects of redistricting, the decennial drawing of congressional lines across the country that, over the past several decades, has made the vast majority of House members untouchable in general elections because of the clear partisan lean of their districts. The only thing they fear, politically speaking, is a challenge from the ideological right in a primary, and they protect against that possibility by hewing as closely as they can to the desires of the conservative base."

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Paula Deen discussion

Salon has an article on the Paula Deen incident from a different perspective:

"The difference now is that people don’t speak in public what they are thinking and sharing behind closed doors."

In still not sure where I stand on the Paula Deen incident. I don't think that I know enough about what actually happened to form a rational decision. I do believe that racial epitaphs should never be used, but I would be lying if I said I had never used them in the past. I don't personally know someone that hasn't used a racial epitaph at some point in their life.

I do regret my part in extending the racial disparity into the present, but I also believe that people that have sincerely tried to change and make amends for their horrible language in the past deserve the benefit of the doubt if for no other reason than there would be no one left if people weren't given the opportunity to change.

The ultimate goal of rationality

Learning the tools of rationality isn't enough. In order to get anything out of it, you have to have a goal that puts those tools to work towards a desirable end.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fLG0kkgnRkc&feature=youtube_gdata_player

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

DOMA and Prop 8 fall

This is a note to myself as much as anything. There is no breaking news here. Everyone that cases already knows that DOMA and Proposition 8 were essentially overturned by the Supreme Court.

Proposition 8 was sent back to a lower court due to lack of standing. I believe this will allow the lower court's findings to stand. I don't think there will be any more cases, but since I am far from a legal expert, I don't know for sure.

On the other hand, section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act was ruled unconstitutional. It is gone, never to return again. Unfortunately that doesn't mean everyone can marry, it means that if your state allows you to marry the Federal Government will have to recognize the marriage too.

There are still many questions to be answered, like what happens if you are married and nice to a state that doesn't allow same-sex marriage? I suspect there is another Supreme Court challenge in the making.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Facebook know you whether you use it or not

ZDnet is reporting about the shadow profile of each of us regardless of whether we use Facebook or not:

"Facebook's shadow profile data collection activities came to light Friday when the social network disclosed a bug fix. The security researchers who found the vulnerability, Packet Storm Security, say Facebook is compiling "frightening" dossiers on everyone possible, including people without Facebook accounts."

When computers start to crunch data provided by others it is frightening to realize what they can do.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Are we getting any benefit from the NSA spying on us?

Most of our privacy is gone. We have traded out privacy for benefits from Google, Facebook, and Twitter. What we haven't done is give our government the authority to observe us like lab specimens. We must be aware of what the government is doing before we can decide whether they have gone too far.

One of the worst problems, beside the government hiding from us, is that we are getting lousy return on investment from the information that the government is stealing from us. We are giving up all our privacy to the government and we have nothing to show for it.

CNN reports: "On Thursday, Sens. Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, Democrats who both serve on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and have access to the nation's most sensitive secrets, released a statement contradicting [the] assertion [that the NSA's surveillance programs have stopped many terrorist attacks]. "Gen. Alexander's testimony yesterday suggested that the NSA's bulk phone records collection program helped thwart 'dozens' of terrorist attacks, but all of the plots that he mentioned appear to have been identified using other collection methods," the two senators said."

For giving up all our privacy we should have a government that catches everything that could threaten us in the entire world. What it looks like, however, is that we could trade the entire NSA program for a few friendly police officers and have just as effective of an outcome.

Fetal pain timeline

I am sad and a little discouraged that lawmakers are so ready to ignore science and victimize women in their mad rush for acceptance from the religious fringe.

The New Scientist reports: "The report concludes that fetuses under 24 weeks must be pain-free, because at that age the wiring doesn't exist to send pain signals from nerves around the body to the cortex, the area of the brain where pain is experienced. At which later point such connections form is unknown, so analgesia should still be considered after 24 weeks, the RCOG says."

An abortion at 23 weeks, a call for compassion

JUDY NICASTRO wrote in the New York Times: "I share my story in the hope that our leaders will be more responsible and compassionate when they weigh what it means to truly value the lives of women and children."

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Democrats are winning

... Now if they just don't lay down and take a nap

I'm not sure that the Democrats will be able to pick up any seats at all in the house during the next election. They might be gaining ground now, but that probably won't hold. The only thing that will help the Democrats is if the Republicans continue to shoot themselves in the foot. Fortunately they seem more than willing to do just that.

The only problem is that the Democrats themselves are becoming a real problem. Without the Republican party to challenge them, the Democrats are really slipping toward problems. By the time they actually lose, the Republicans might actually have rebuilt their party to the point where they will control the United States for an extended period of time again.

The Daily Breast on how the Republicans are still fractured with no sign of it changing.

The legality of the NSA's actions.

Is the surveillance of the American people constitutional? I don't know. I was under the impression that it was, but the Washington Post has an article that argues against the constitutionality of the NSA's program.

http://m.washingtonpost.com/opinions/nsa-surveillance-may-be-legal--but-its-unconstitutional/2013/06/21/b9ddec20-d44d-11e2-a73e-826d299ff459_story.html

Does Snowden deserve prosecution?

Glen Greenwald provides a welcome prospective about just who is being hurt by the government's prosecution of Edward Snowden.

Friday, June 14, 2013

From where is safety derived?

Everyone that isn't already set for life needs to read and think about the questions brought up by articles like this. What skills do we have? What skills do we need? What if the skill set needed by society changes after we are already trained -- or retrained? How will our families survive? How will we pay off the debt we acquire if our skills are no longer needed?

It seems too easy for people to sneer at the idea of safety nets, but what other alternative is there? If anyone can think of a better idea for protecting people from an uncertain future, I would love to hear it.

Sympathy for the Luddites - NYTimes.com

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Professor Deandre's status still unknown

The step-on-a-piece-of-paper-with-Jesus'-name-on-it professor still hasn't found out if he will be able to continue with his career after a self-righteous student threatened him because he just loved Jesus so much.

Communications Professor Deandre Poole’s status at FAU is still unknown | University Press

Monday, June 10, 2013

Seven years between Bush and Obama

"If you've made a phone call in the past seven years, the NSA almost certainly is aware of it. It knows whom you called, how long you talked and maybe where you were. Seven years -- a period of serene, unbroken continuity between George W. Bush, who was correctly seen as an enemy of civil liberties, and Barack Obama, who was mistakenly taken (by me, among others) to be their friend."

Under NSA's Unblinking Eye | RealClearPolitics

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The NSA whistleblower

It seems like the Obama administration won't have to work too hard to find their latest leak. Edward Snowden has come forward and taken credit for uncovering the NSA's surveillance program against the American people.

It is a shame that someone has to go to such extreme lengths to try to protect the American people from the government that we elected.

It's a good story. I wish Mr. Snowden good luck, and I thank him for the service he has done for our country.

Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind revelations of NSA surveillance

We should have control of our information

I have often been at odds with people regarding privacy. I have always hated the way that the Patriot act has given the government an expanded view into our lives. At the same time, I don't think that all information needs to be kept from everyone. What I think is that we should have control over our own information. We should get to decide who has it, how it is used, and who they can share it with. Do you like the new Google or Apple tools? Is it worth enough to you to share your information with them? Fantastic! If not, then we should have the ability to keep our information to ourselves and away from the companies that just feel wasn't it to make money off of us.

Now government is a little different critter they have a legitimate need for some of the information, but they need to be watched closely because of that need. There should be no way that they can obtain our information completely in the dark. We shouldn't have to wonder what kind of information the government is collecting about us, we should know. We might not need to know how, bout we should know. Without knowing what the government is doing, there is no way we can stand up and say that they have gone too far.

And no, it doesn't matter which party is in control, all government employees should be held to the same standards. It shouldn't matter whether a Democrat or Republican is President any more than it matters whether your mailman is a Democrat or Republican.

America the passive - Salon.com

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Okay Google, Get To Work

I just finished browsing Forbes website using Chrome beta on my Android phone. It was amazing! When I finished an article I could scroll up a little and a menu of related stories was available for me. I had read about this in the past, but this is the first time that I actually got to try it.

These are the kind of things that I want to be able to do. If someone has to have all my data, I want something in return for it. I want to be shown things that are of value to me that I would have missed on my own.

So far I think that Google has made more progress in this area than anyone else. They may be using my data for advertising, but they are giving me something of great value in return. As long as they don't turn evil, this is an exchange I am more than willing to make.

Link: the problem with metadata

Verizon and the N.S.A.: The Problem with Metadata : The New Yorker

Friday, June 7, 2013

Are You Feeling Secure in the Government's Ability to Maintain your Privacy?

With all the breaking news about servers being accessed and telephone calls being logged by the NSA, I can't help but look at this new potential database of biometric information with a touch of cynicism.

From a Wired article:
Buried in the more than 800 pages of the bipartisan legislation (.pdf)  is language mandating the creation of the innocuously-named “photo tool,” a massive federal database administered by the Department of Homeland Security and containing names, ages, Social Security numbers and photographs of everyone in the country with a driver’s license or other state-issued photo ID.
Together in one convenient place for the first time is everything anyone could possible want to track you, steal your identity, check on your government benefits, or any other piece of information about you stored in virtually any computer in the entire world. This database would be the keys to the kingdom.

What could possible go wrong? After all, we know that the government has always handled these types of sensitive information with the utmost privacy and security. Not once has any information ever been downloaded to a government laptop and then been stolen with thousands -- if not millions -- of names and social security numbers waiting to be taken. Not once has a government agency ever been hacked and supposedly secure files been taken directly from the government servers. Federal agencies are much better monitored and regulated than that.

But lets suppose for a moment the Department of Homeland Security has some kind of magic server that could never be hacked even with all the Chinese hackers in the world working on it. And let's further suppose that no employee that isn't authorized will ever gain access to the server and they will never make a stupid, human mistake like leaving their laptops to be stolen. Would that solve the problem?

No.

Programs like this have a tendency to expand. What starts out as an expedient solution to a simple problem has a tendency to grow and mutate to the point where they aren't recognizable any longer.

Back to Wired:
For now, the legislation allows the database to be used solely for employment purposes. But historically such limitations don’t last. The Social Security card, for example, was created to track your government retirement benefits. Now you need it to purchase health insurance.
And purchasing health insurance isn't the only thing you need a Social Security card for. In my area you can't go to the doctor, get any help from the government, get a job, access your bank account through an ATM, verify that you are who you way you are over the phone, or anything else without a Social Security number.

Forming a database with all our information -- including everything necessary for a computer to recognize us -- couldn't possibly be a good idea. Not only should every civil liberties group be apposed to this legislation, every elected official and every voter should be against it regardless of party. There just isn't any good to come out of this for anyone.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Blackberry Messenger: too little too late

It looks like we can strike the Blackberry Messenger from the list of competition for a unified messaging service. They just announced that it won't run on many of the current handsets that the public uses, and I haven't heard anything about it running on desktops at all.

Apple Insider reports:
When it launches this summer, BBM is expected to be a free download, and it will be available for devices running at least iOS 6 or Android 4.0.
 That is a decent portion of the available ecosystem in the smartphone community, but it still leaves many android phones behind.

In the mean time, Google has already released their entry into the messenger race that is in the lead of all the competition. Google Hangouts can run on almost all android handsets, iphone handsets, and can even run on any computer that can run the Chrome browser.

I have used Blackberry Messenger in the past, and I had hoped that it might be a viable messing system for the people I communicate with. But in light of this news, it seems that Google Hangouts is not only the best alternative, but the only alternative.

Hope Remains

... and that's enough for a start.

The Audacity of Hope isn't just a book by President Obama, it is what's left of the Democratic party following some of the possible missteps by the White House. The Republican attack machine has been serviced and is ready for four more years, and the White House seems intent to feed the Republican beast.

Each entry into the conspiracy theorists handbook has about the same credence as the Roswell coverup. Despite this, the Republicans continue to charge ahead in their attempt to paint President Obama as worse than President Nixon. But due to some massive missteps by the White House, about the only thing the Democratic party has left is the hope that President Obama is as clean as we believe him to be.

One of the things that is making President Obama's White House look so bad is the fact that it is constantly shrouded in secrecy. Many of the things that the Republicans are trying to make scandals out of appear so much worse because the White House isn't being transparent. Many of the conspiracies that the Republicans are trying to push could have been sidetracked if the White House had been more forthcoming before some reporter somewhere happened to break the story.

Benghazi? A known risk when working in dangerous territory, and something that should have been studied to make sure future loss of life was minimized. Just as every such incident of similar instances should have been studied in the past as well. Total take on the situation? A slight appearance of inappropriateness due to the way that national security works.

The IRS targeting Tea Party groups? A known problem with large organizations whether they are private or governmental. Other than destroying the IRS, which would flush the United States down the toilet, the only know solution to these types of problems is openness and regulation. We need inspectors watching the IRS to make sure that they are treating everyone fair and equally. I suspect that the Tea Party groups that were targeted deserved to be targeted, but the Democratic groups that were skating around the same tax laws should have been targeted just the same. Openness and a desire to regulate and fix the problem would have gone a long ways toward keeping the American people behind the White House.

Targeting the Associated Press reporters? This one is even more clear than the previous examples. Why is the Obama administration targeting the Associated Press reporters? There is a reason, but since no one discussed it until reporters broke the story, it makes the White House look like they had something to hide. If they were so intent on plugging leaks then everyone in America should have know that they were trying to plug leaks and how important it was to the American people that the leaks be plugged. We should have been given the information so that we would have had an intuitive feel as to whether actions of this magnitude were required.

So far the Obama administration has been virtually spotless in their actions and left the Republicans running around looking like conspiracy mongers. But remember, the goal of the Presidency shouldn't be to make the opposition look like fools, but the further the prosperity of the American people. We don't need an administration that can make the Republicans look like fools, we need an administration that we can get behind. We need an administration that the people will follow even when the Republicans are rolling in the mud. We need an administration that America supports enough to not only vote for, but to stand behind enough that they vote for Democratic senators and representatives so that the Republicans can no longer obstruct the path to the future.

Become as transparent as the campaign promises and show the Democrats, Republicans, and Independents how to govern properly. Trust the American people; they aren't as bad as the Tea Party makes them look. Lead the way to a progressive future and trust the people to give you the House and Senate so we can all get there.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Michelle Obama Makes the Wrong Choice

Despite how things turned out, Michelle Obama made the wrong choice when she made the crowd choose between her and a heckler. While there was almost no chance that the crowd would choose the heckler, Mrs. Obama still allowed the heckler too much control of the event. Mrs. Obama didn't leave a single impression from her speech; instead, the heckler got the only soundbite that made the news.

The Celebrity Cafe stated:
The Huffington Post reports that Sturtz is an activist for the group GetEQUAL. Her decision to heckle was based on the lack of laws restricting federal contractors from hiring based on gender identity. Sturtz told the Huffington Post that she did not initially plan to interrupt the First Lady, but was inspired by Obama's speech to say something.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

President Obama is coming to town...

... it just isn't the town that I am in.

President Obama is coming to Oklahoma. He could be touching down at any minute. Unfortunately I won't be able to make it anywhere near enough to see him. I, like the rest of America, will have to settle for seeing him on the television.

President Obama is doing on of the things that any leader needs to do, and incidentally, something that many of the representatives of Oklahoma are refusing to do. President Obama is trying to help the people get back on their feet after the horrible tornado that hit Moore, OK on May 20th. He is here to survey the damage, speak with the Governor, and see what can be done. Now if only we could get Tom Coburn and Jim Inhofe to provide as much support for Oklahoma as the President does.

Nothing to sneeze at

The Digital Cuttlefish does it again. Today he wrote a poem about whooping cough and the need for vaccinations. I had whooping cough when I was a child –– not because I wasn't vaccinated, but because vaccines aren't 100% effective. That is the reason that everyone needs to get vaccinated, we need herd immunity so that no one has to die from these horrible, yet preventable, diseases.

Cough » The Digital Cuttlefish

As a side note, I wanted to leave a comment on his site, but when I tried to log in it said that only administrator accounts can use the mobile login? Sorry Cuttlefish.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Atheists vs Religious Believers

Every time a writer has something nice he wants to say about religion, they seem required to find the nearest atheist bogeyman to scapegoat. Brent Budowsky also seems to fall into this trap as he seeks to heap praise on Pope Francis.

Budowsky writes in this article from The Hill:

This is extraordinary, powerful and profound. There are profound differences between the policies of President Obama and Democrats versus the policies proposed by the atheist Ayn Rand and conservative voices such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Rep. Paul (sic) Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Republican leaders in Congress.

This is the kind of thing that seeps into the Democratic party, rots, and tries to destroy the party from the inside out. Ostensibly, Brent Budowsky and I are on the same side. Neither one of us seem to like the politics of Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen Rand Paul, Rep Paul Ryan, or the Republican leaders in Congress. But we're not on the same side because I want a Democratic party that is inclusive of everyone instead of trying to keep certain religions, or people of no religion, on the outside of the party.

Let me see if this slight change will help illustrate the point:

This is extraordinary, powerful and profound. There are profound differences between the policies of religious President Obama and religious Democrats versus the policies proposed by the atheist Ayn Rand and conservative voices such as religious Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), religious Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), religious Rep. Paul (sic) Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and religious Republican leaders in [a] religious Congress.

Ayn Rand was an atheist, but since atheism isn't dogmatic there is no more reason for any atheist to believe the writings of Ayn Rand than there are to believe any other piece of fiction written in an old book. Her ideas were her own and are almost universally rejected by the atheist community.

Contrary to what some people believe, simply because something is written down doesn't make it representative of an entire group.

I would, however, like to take this opportunity to say that the Pope has made positive changes. Financial inequality is one of the larger problems facing the world today. The rich are getting richer on the labor of the poor. People are working and trying to live on less than a living wage. Businessmen and corporations are using people like a commodity that can be used up and discarded instead of treating them with the humanity that they deserve.

The pope specifically calls on world leaders to address the great economic and financial injustices, and I agree with him completely. The pope uses words like "cult" and "dictatorship" to describe the champions of financial justice and the conditions their policies create, and I fully agree with him about this, as well.

But financial inequality isn't the only problem facing the world today. Women are constantly treated as being worth less than men. People of color are still looked upon as if they are somehow inferior versions of humanity in the United States as well as Rome, Canada, England, and the rest of the world. Husbands and wives are actively denied access to information and birth control that they need to manage reproduction responsibly. Women are denied access to abortions even at the cost of their life and the life of their baby. Gay men as well as lesbians are denied the right to even have a family that includes the communal support all families deserve. Bisexual people are forced to stay in the closet just to try to escape being associated with the worst kind of promiscuity. Transgender people are denied access to medical care that they require to lead a healthy, well adjusted life. Children are being kicked out of countries because they were brought there when they were one year old instead of being born there.

I'm glad that the Pope Francis is trying to bring the Catholic church one step closer to the modern world. In my opinion he is a great improvement over Pope Benedict XVI. But make no mistake, neither Pope Francis nor the Catholic church is a supporter of social justice. They still have a lot to learn to even come close to the superior morality that many atheists have. Social justice should be for everyone. It shouldn't be limited to a particular Pope's favored group.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Where "Scientific" Skepticism Fails

Despite their claims, they can't divide science up into science they like science that doesn't count.

One of my pet peeves regarding the skeptical community is the belief that some of them foster regarding science and empiricism. They try to present themselves as a community that tests every claim in the universe that can be empirically tested. And if they test every claim that can be empirically tested, then anything that they don't test must, somehow, be outside the realm of empirical science. That belief, of course, is bullpucky. Contrary to claims made by various skeptics, they seem to only be interested in a small portion of all the things that can be scientifically tested.

Daniel Loxton wrote a piece at Skepticblog regarding the lack of overlap between the skeptical movement and atheism:

Skeptics like Steven Novella insist that sticking to the realm of science is “about clarity of philosophy, logic, and definition” rather than strategic advantage or intellectual cowardice, but some critics find this position unsatisfying—or even suspicious. (...)

I have divided this paragraph into two pieces so that I could separate out the supposed claim from the actual claim without making it look like I was trying to take his words out of context. As for the above quote, I can see that the supposed claim is that strictly adhering to science is a matter of clarity while others (atheists I presume) claim it is cowardice. I, personally, don't know anyone that thinks this. I could be wrong since atheists think for themselves, I doubt that this is the predominant view that atheists hold of skeptics.

(...) What are we to make of accusations that skepticism’s “testable claims” scope is a cynical political dodge, a way to present skeptics as brave investigators while conveniently arranging to leave religious feathers unruffled? Like the other clich├ęs of my field (“skeptics are in the pocket of Big Pharma!”) this complaint is probably immortal. No matter how often this claim is debunked, it will never go away.

Here is the part that I really have a problem with. Skepticism doesn't include all testable claims. Skepticism only includes a minor subset of testable claims while at the same time actively denigrating people that work in the broader context of science.

Before I upset too many skeptics, I need to point out that this isn't intended as a broad brush claim. There are plenty of skeptics that don't limit themselves to a narrow subset of science. There are also plenty of skeptics that welcome atheists into their ranks. But there are enough skeptics that want to limit skepticism to their narrow definition of science that a reasonable portion of atheists no longer feel comfortable claiming common cause with skeptics. And it is this divide between skeptics and atheists that is frustrating since the overlap between the two communities is so vast.

In his post Mr. Loxton talks about the charges he believes are leveled against the skeptical community. I have never heard these charges myself, but that doesn't mean that some atheist has made them at some point in time. He believes skeptics giving any sort of special pass to religion is inaccurate. He goes on to say that skeptics investigate any claim that can be investigated regardless of whether religion is involved.

Now, here’s what actually is true: scientific skeptics investigate claims that can be investigated (religious or otherwise) and we set aside claims that cannot be investigated (again, religious or otherwise). The “religious” part is irrelevant. It comes up on both sides of the testability equation, so just cross it out and forget about it. The only relevant distinction is simply whether empirical evidence is possible. If we can’t collect evidence, then tough—we can’t. If we can collect evidence, then we do, regardless of whom that evidence may offend.

But is that true? I would submit that it is not. I am not arguing that the skeptics intentionally provide cover for religion, but I do believe that they don't test religious claims unless they are blatantly, obviously, and unquestionably fraudulent. What if a religious claim falls within the bounds of science to the same degree that a non-religious claim would? Are they actually treated the same way?

Imagine a hypothetical person walking up to a skeptic and saying that they believe in complimentary and alternative medicine. What do you suppose the skeptic would say? Since many of the skeptics I know take an active interest in debunking CAM (complimentary and alternative medicine), I would assume that they would follow up with a few questions or assumptions and begin to debunk the crazy claims that many of people in the CAM community have put forward.

Notice that our hypothetical person didn't claim a belief in any specifics that could be debunked. They didn't claim to believe in homeopathy, magneto therapy, or acupuncture. Yet CAM itself falls outside of the skeptics specifically defined bounds. It, in and of itself, can not be empirically tested because it isn't clearly defined. While there might be several things that fall under the CAM umbrella that can be tested, CAM itself can not. Regardless of this fact, I have never seen a skeptic step away from CAM scratching their head and saying that they must remain agnostic about CAM since it falls outside of empiricism.

Now let's take a look at religion. People often say that they believe in a god. There are no shortage of them in the United States or the world for that matter. God, at least at this point in the conversation, is just as much of an umbrella concept as CAM. Since it isn't defined, their god could be an alien hidden under a rock on the far side of the universe that has no interaction with us at all and no ability to pull itself up out of the mud.

Raise your hand if you think this is the kind of thing that religious people are talking about with respect to their god. Yet despite not even scratching the surface of the god hypothesis, many skeptics gladly shrug and assume an attitude along the lines of 'I can't test it, so happy proselytizing'.

Those of us that don't want to ignore a specific claim that something exists have to clarify the claim. We ask a question. Do you, as a religious person, believe that a child was born to a virgin that was the son of your god? Since the most common response in the United States would be "Yes!", we'll assume that answer from the theist. Despite their answer, everything we know about science says that this is impossible. Every test that we have ever observed has demonstrated that women don't become pregnant spontaneously.

So we ask another question. Do you believe that Jesus was crucified and came back to life at a later date (usually considered three days)? Everything we know about science says that humans don't come back from the dead. While there might be some leeway about where exactly the line is that makes a human dead, once they cross that line, they don't come back. And even when they do come back after tens of minutes submerged in frigid water, it is always with heroic measures.

Another question: do you believe that your god interacts with humanity by answering prayers? We have actually tested this repeatedly under controlled circumstances. We haven't ever observed a prayer being answered.

Another: does your god interact with the world in any way? Assuming the answer is yes, then the interactions can be tested empirically. Theoretically, if a fly farts on Mt. Fuji then we can demonstrate that interaction with the world. The more grandiose the interactions, the easier they are to test; yet no evidence for a god has ever been found.

I will, of course, grant that absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence. Regardless, absence of evidence when we have tested for it repeatedly is at least on par with the absence of evidence for Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.

Atheists often see skeptics trying to define empiricism and science specifically to suit their purpose. When skeptics talk to someone that believes in Bigfoot, they say that they have reviewed the evidence and found no proof that the creature exists. Skeptics then tell the world that there is no reason to believe in Bigfoot unless new evidence is presented to support the case. Yet when atheists tell someone that believes in God that we have reviewed the evidence and found no proof that the creature exists, and we tell people that there is no reason to believe in God unless new evidence is presented, we are accused of operating outside the of the confines of empiricism.

If, as skeptics, you want to avoid religious questions, that is your choice; however, when atheists use science to empirically test religious claims, you don't get to claim that we are doing skepticism wrong without looking like you are, indeed, giving religion a free pass for some reason.

The Possibility That Religion Is True Is Vanishingly Small

It is so unlikely that religion is true that the possibility should be ignored by everyone until such time that any real evidence is presented.

Gary Marcus posted an article in the Newyorker concerning science, religion, and faith.
(...) Any agnostic is free to believe that his favorite religion has not yet been completely disproven. But anyone who wishes to bring science into the argument must acknowledge that the evidence thus far is weak, especially when it is combined statistically, in the fashion of a meta-analysis. To emphasize the qualitative conclusion (X has not been absolutely proven to be false) while ignoring the collective weight of the quantitative data (i.e., that most evidence points away from X) is a fallacy, akin to holding out a belief in flying reindeer on the grounds that there could yet be sleighs that we have not yet seen.
 This is one of several prongs that is useful in understanding religion. Religions have been looked at an enormous amount over the course of human history. Every time we have looked at them, they have failed. The accumulation of all those failures add a statistical weight to just how unlikely it is that any given religion is true. And all that is before we even weigh any claim from a specific religion.

The idea that any religion is true is so miniscule that it would take an enormous amount of verifiable evidence to swing the scales back the the idea that believing in religion was scientifically reasonable.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Link - reasons to keep government out of the birth control business

"Teenagers were delaying treatment,” Insko said. “They were getting sicker, they were spreading venereal disease, in some cases committing suicide because they could not talk to their parents.”

N.C. House approves bill requiring teens to get parents’ OK for birth control | CharlotteObserver.com

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

If Only We Could Outlaw Penises

If only we could outlaw possession and purchase of the penis then we could compare the laws governing smoking to the laws governing contraception.

Heather Mac Donald wrote a column for the New York Post comparing smoking to birth control -- specifically the recent ruling on the age requirements for obtaining the Plan B contraception. She tries to hit one out of the ballpark, but ended up with a swing and a miss. Her failure is trying to compare apples to oranges, or more specifically, comparing penises to cigarettes.

Heather Mac Donald writes:

The Times editorialists fall back on the usual “they’ll have sex anyway” rationale for demanding Plan B for 11- and 12-year-olds: “Lack of access to safe contraception will not stop adolescents from having sex,” they write. The same can be said for smoking, of course.

And right there, if you think about it for more than a second, her argument goes off the rails. We are trying to prevent children from having sex until they are mature enough and properly prepared, just as we are trying to prevent children from taking up the habit of smoking. But you can't compare what happens after having unprotected sex (or a condom fail) with efforts to prevent smoking. Her argument falls closer to saying that smoking causes medical problems so we are going to outlaw medical care for children. But even that isn't all that good of a comparison.

Sex is a normal and natural part of virtually every humans life at some point. Smoking is not. Trying to compare sex with smoking can't ever be anything but a fail. Heather Mac Donald doesn't do any favors to herself or the conservative movement by putting forward such ridiculous comparisons.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Assistive Technology on Google Glass

I've always been a fan of technology. I want to be surrounded by computers, smart phones, remote controls, drones, radio controlled airplanes, or anything else with a wow factor. That alone would be good enough to get Google Glass if they weren't too expensive. But what would make Google Glass a necessity instead of being relegated to nothing more than an outdated, overrated Bluetooth headset would be if it could provide some assistive technology right in front of my eyes where it would be the most useful.

Being colorblind, it's difficult to communicate effectively with people that describe things in terms of color. There are rudimentary programs available for smartphones that do a pretty good job of distinguishing between the more basic colors. I want that ability -- or preferably an improved version -- right up there in front of my eyes instead of in my purse.

Old eyes, at least my old eyes, also sometimes have trouble making out fine print or small print at a distance. How about having a feature that would magnify the text that I am looking at if it falls below a certain visibility standard? It shouldn't matter whether the text is too far away for me to read or whether it is printed too small. If I am trying to read it and the text isn't large enough, I want my glasses to be able to compensate.

And while I am thinking about text, how about if they would change the color or text when someone makes the incredibly bad decision to print black text on a really dark red background. I know that the processors in cellphones can handle this type of action, I bet Google Glass could as well.

Provide me with interchangeable programs to highlight the things I want to see. Maybe I am driving and want a driving mode; something that would calculate how close I am to the car in front of me, give me a constant readout on my speed and other information from the dashboard, and perhaps alert me to any obstacles on the side of the road that might run out in my way whether it be a child or a deer.

Show me something that I can't see with my own eyes. Let me see what the world looks like in the infrared or ultraviolet. Perhaps this type of vision would be useful at some point, or maybe it could be overlaid on top of my already existing vision. Perhaps thermal enhanced vision would be perfect for the driving mode I wondered about above.

These are just a few of the ideas I have off the top of my head. These are the kind of things I want from a wearable device, not just a smartphone extension. I already have a camera on my smartphone that takes fantastic pictures. And since it is hand-held, I can probably get a much better angle for a picture than I ever could having it affixed to my eyebrow.