Saturday, February 23, 2008

A Little Saturday Night Strangeness

Happened upon this bizarre video of well-coifed Germans covering Black Sabbath. Sit back, pop open a beer, and enjoy.

I'm particularly interested in what Bawdy might have to say about this one.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Internet Censorship

How's this for a complete change of topics amidst the politics and religion here?

It would seem that there is a torrent of activity building up around censoring activities on the Internet. Of course, I find any censorship abhorent. What am I talking about? Here are some examples.
  1. Internet Service Provider, Comcast (I hate Comcast), has decided to "throttle" certain types of Internet content typically associated with file sharing. One example is BitTorrent traffic. What gives them the right? File sharing is not all stealing and there are many legitimate uses for it. Other ISPs are undertaking deploying tactics. Any ISP that does this deserves to go out of business as people flee to a better provider.
  2. China has called on domestic Web sites to sign a voluntary pact governing online video and audio content, saying they should exercise self-censorship to ensure a "healthy and orderly" cyberspace. Nobody expects China to promote freedom, but Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Cisco have all caved into China's censoring ways. And Skype agreed to censor "politically sensitive words" in China, too.
  3. Finland, Denmark, and other European countries are moving towards Internet censorship. European Union Justice and Security Commissioner Franco Frattini called last September for ISPs to block access to Web sites hosting information about bomb-making, U.K. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said in January that she wanted action taken against sites that encouraged terrorism (including social networking sites), Danish authorities recently decided to block file-sharing site The Pirate Bay, and Finnish programmer Matti Nikki is under investigation for publishing a secret list of domains that authorities had allegedly censored in an effort to stop the spread of child pornography. I'm not advocating bomb making, terrorism, pirating, or child porn... but what happened to free speech.
  4. Thailand, Morocco and Turkey have blocked YouTube because it hosted videos critical of kings or such garbage.
These stories, over the course of the past couple of years, indicate a nasty trend toward censorship. As it becomes more acceptable around the world, other countries, including the US may find it easier to adopt and push out to the baaa-ing masses. Liberties, once removed, are always hard to win back, especially once things gets entrenched in governmental systems.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Is McCain an Ol' Horn Dog?

Republican presidential front-runner John McCain on Thursday dismissed as untrue a New York Times report suggesting he had a close and possibly romantic relationship with a female lobbyist nine years ago, a potentially embarrassing conflict of interest.

Of course, McCain has denied it. And all it is right now is an allegation. But I would find it fucking hilarious if it is true and McCain gets smeared like Clinton did.

Now it doesn't really matter to me if he did have an affair, but it would be fun to watch a Republican squirm like they made Billy Boy squirm.

Shift Happens

I'm not sure that all of the information in this video is 100% accurate, but it seems about right.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

How Evolution REALLY Works

Creation Science 101

Presidential Poll Closed

I removed the presidential poll from the site today because it seems to be stalled and the race is less interesting now than it was back when I put it up in January.

For those interested in the "results" of the poll of The Serenity of Reason posters, here it is:
  1. Barack Obama - 39%
  2. John McCain - 22%
  3. Hillary Clinton - 17%
  4. Mike Huckabee - 9%
  5. Dennis Kucinich - 4%

Here is my prediction: Obama vs. McCain in the general election with Obama winning by at least 5%. Harder to predict running mates at this point, but I don't see either Obama or McCain choosing their closest competitors. That means no Hillary for Obama; and no Huckabee or Romney for McCain.

That said, my guess would be that McCain will try very hard to convince Condoleeza Rice to be his running mate. As a black, woman, conservative it would solve a lot of his problems. For Obama, I'm thinking Bill Richardson, Governor of New Mexico.

But who knows at this point, right? Do you have any thoughts on running mates?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

On Evolution, Part 1 - It Is a Theory

I'm going to start another regular series of posts (like the series titled Biblical Wisdom), but this series will be devoted to clearing up the confusion and refuting the tired old criticisms... so in the future I can just say, see Part x.

First up, let's tackle the tired old "Evolution is only a theory" type of statement.

This is the "argument" that some creationists try to use to deflect the mountain of scientific evidence that backs up the theory of evolution. Oftentimes the offending person will add something like "It isn't truth, only a theory" or "Evolution is a theory not a fact." The reason that this lame "attack" sometimes works is that the vast majority of the public does not understand what a scientific theory actually is. Some of us "remember" learning back in school that a theory is not a certainty--it is more than a hypothesis but below a law.

Scientists do not use the terms that way. According to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), a scientific theory is "a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses." There is no "magical" point at which a theory becomes a law. In point of fact, the term "law" is simply a descriptive generalization about nature.

Again, turning to the NAS, a fact is defined as "an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed and for all practical purposes is accepted as 'true.'" The fossil record and abundant other evidence testify that organisms have evolved through time. Although no one observed those transformations, the indirect evidence is clear, unambiguous and compelling. All sciences frequently rely on indirect evidence. Physicists cannot see subatomic particles directly, for instance, so they verify their existence by watching for telltale tracks that the particles leave in cloud chambers. The absence of direct observation does not make physicists' conclusions less certain.

When scientists talk about the theory of evolution (or the atomic theory, the theory of gravity, or the theory of relativity) they are not expressing reservations about its truth. Just the opposite.

Furthermore, it is necessary to define the word "evolution." From the archives of TalkOrigins.Org: Like so many other words, it (evolution) has more than one meaning. Its strict biological definition is "a change in allele frequencies over time." By that definition, evolution is an indisputable fact. Most people seem to associate the word "evolution" mainly with common descent, the theory that all life arose from one common ancestor. Many people believe that there is enough evidence to call this a fact, too. However, common descent is still not the theory of evolution, but just a fraction of it (and a part of several quite different theories as well). The theory of evolution not only says that life evolved, it also includes mechanisms, like mutations, natural selection, and genetic drift, which go a long way towards explaining how life evolved.

Calling the theory of evolution "only a theory" is, strictly speaking, true, but the idea it tries to convey is completely wrong. The argument rests on a confusion between what "theory" means in informal usage and in a scientific context. A theory, in the scientific sense, is "a coherent group of general propositions used as principles of explanation for a class of phenomena" [Random House American College Dictionary]. The term does not imply tentativeness or lack of certainty. Generally speaking, scientific theories differ from scientific laws only in that laws can be expressed more tersely. Being a theory implies self-consistency, agreement with observations, and usefulness. (Creationism fails to be a theory mainly because of the last point; it makes few or no specific claims about what we would expect to find, so it can't be used for anything. When it does make falsifiable predictions, they prove to be false.)

Lack of proof isn't a weakness, either. On the contrary, claiming infallibility for one's conclusions is a sign of hubris. Nothing in the real world has ever been rigorously proved, or ever will be. Proof, in the mathematical sense, is possible only if you have the luxury of defining the universe you're operating in. In the real world, we must deal with levels of certainty based on observed evidence. The more and better evidence we have for something, the more certainty we assign to it; when there is enough evidence, we label the something a fact, even though it still isn't 100% certain.

What evolution has is what any good scientific claim has--evidence, and lots of it. Evolution is supported by a wide range of observations throughout the fields of genetics, anatomy, ecology, animal behavior, paleontology, and others. If you wish to challenge the theory of evolution, you must address that evidence. You must show that the evidence is either wrong or irrelevant or that it fits another theory better. Of course, to do this, you must know both the theory and the evidence.

So the next time somebody says that evolution is just a theory you can smile and know that they are not well informed.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Are Americans Hostile to Knowledge?

By PATRICIA COHEN A popular video on YouTube shows Kellie Pickler, the adorable platinum blonde from "American Idol," appearing on the Fox game show "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" during celebrity week. Selected from a third-grade geography curriculum, the $25,000 question asked: "Budapest is the capital of what European country?"

Ms. Pickler threw up both hands and looked at the large blackboard perplexed. "I thought Europe was a country," she said. Playing it safe, she chose to copy the answer offered by one of the genuine fifth graders: Hungary. "Hungry?" she said, eyes widening in disbelief. "That's a country? I've heard of Turkey. But Hungry? I've never heard of it."

Such, uh, lack of global awareness is the kind of thing that drives Susan Jacoby, author of "The Age of American Unreason," up a wall. Ms. Jacoby is one of a number of writers with new books that bemoan the state of American culture.

Joining the circle of curmudgeons this season is Eric G. Wilson, whose "Against Happiness" warns that the "American obsession with happiness" could "well lead to a sudden extinction of the creative impulse, that could result in an extermination as horrible as those foreshadowed by global warming and environmental crisis and nuclear proliferation."

Then there is Lee Siegel's "Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob," which inveighs against the Internet for encouraging solipsism, debased discourse and arrant commercialization. Mr. Siegel, one might remember, was suspended by The New Republic for using a fake online persona in order to trash critics of his blog ("you couldn't tie Siegel's shoelaces") and to praise himself ("brave, brilliant").

Jacoby, whose book came out on Tuesday, doesn't zero in on a particular technology or emotion, but rather on what she feels is a generalized hostility to knowledge. She is well aware that some may tag her a crank. "I expect to get bashed," said Ms. Jacoby, 62, either as an older person who upbraids the young for plummeting standards and values, or as a secularist whose defense of scientific rationalism is a way to disparage religion.

Jacoby, however, is quick to point out that her indictment is not limited by age or ideology. Yes, she knows that eggheads, nerds, bookworms, longhairs, pointy heads, highbrows and know-it-alls have been mocked and dismissed throughout American history. And liberal and conservative writers, from Richard Hofstadter to Allan Bloom, have regularly analyzed the phenomenon and offered advice.

T. J. Jackson Lears, a cultural historian who edits the quarterly review Raritan, said, "The tendency to this sort of lamentation is perennial in American history," adding that in periods "when political problems seem intractable or somehow frozen, there is a turn toward cultural issues."

But now, Jacoby said, something different is happening: anti-intellectualism (the attitude that "too much learning can be a dangerous thing") and anti-rationalism ("the idea that there is no such things as evidence or fact, just opinion") have fused in a particularly insidious way.

Not only are citizens ignorant about essential scientific, civic and cultural knowledge, she said, but they also don't think it matters.

She pointed to a 2006 National Geographic poll that found nearly half of 18- to 24-year-olds don't think it is necessary or important to know where countries in the news are located. So more than three years into the Iraq war, only 23 percent of those with some college could locate Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel on a map.

Jacoby, dressed in a bright red turtleneck with lipstick to match, was sitting, appropriately, in that temple of knowledge, the New York Public Library's majestic Beaux Arts building on Fifth Avenue. The author of seven other books, she was a fellow at the library when she first got the idea for this book back in 2001, on 9/11.

Walking home to her Upper East Side apartment, she said, overwhelmed and confused, she stopped at a bar. As she sipped her bloody mary, she quietly listened to two men, neatly dressed in suits. For a second she thought they were going to compare that day's horrifying attack to the Japanese bombing in 1941 that blew America into World War II:

"This is just like Pearl Harbor," one of the men said.

The other asked, "What is Pearl Harbor?"

"That was when the Vietnamese dropped bombs in a harbor, and it started the Vietnam War," the first man replied.

At that moment, Jacoby said, "I decided to write this book."

Jacoby doesn't expect to revolutionize the nation's educational system or cause millions of Americans to switch off "American Idol" and pick up Schopenhauer. But she would like to start a conversation about why the United States seems particularly vulnerable to such a virulent strain of anti-intellectualism. After all, "the empire of infotainment doesn't stop at the American border," she said, yet students in many other countries consistently outperform American students in science, math and reading on comparative tests.

In part, she lays the blame on a failing educational system. "Although people are going to school more and more years, there's no evidence that they know more," she said.

Jacoby also blames religious fundamentalism's antipathy toward science, as she grieves over surveys that show that nearly two-thirds of Americans want creationism to be taught along with evolution.

Jacoby doesn't leave liberals out of her analysis, mentioning the New Left's attacks on universities in the 1960s, the decision to consign African-American and women's studies to an "academic ghetto" instead of integrating them into the core curriculum, ponderous musings on rock music and pop culture courses on everything from sitcoms to fat that trivialize college-level learning.

Avoiding the liberal or conservative label in this particular argument, she prefers to call herself a "cultural conservationist."

For all her scholarly interests, though, Jacoby said she recognized just how hard it is to tune out the 24/7 entertainment culture. A few years ago she participated in the annual campaign to turn off the television for a week. "I was stunned at how difficult it was for me," she said.

The surprise at her own dependency on electronic and visual media made her realize just how pervasive the culture of distraction is and how susceptible everyone is — even curmudgeons.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

There Sure Are a Lot of Stupid People Out There

The Fundies Say the Darndest Things! web site has an archive of the most hilarious, bizarre, ignorant, bigoted, and terrifying quotes from fundies all over the Internet!

The top 100 of these can be found here.

It is these type of statements that sometimes cause me to react emotionally to all things religious. The vile stupidity represented in these quotes is sad -- and the blame for it can be placed squarely on the shoulders of religion.

Of course, the majority of xians I know (or have met) are not like the idiotic folks who made statements like this: "If u have sex before marriage then in Gods eyes u are married to that person if a man rapes a woman in Gods eyes they are married it sucks for the girl but what can we do lol " - - and that is just one example of thousands cataloged by FSTDT.

Let's end tonight's post with this stupid graphic from Ken Ham (Answers in Genesis)...

I don't know whether to laugh or to cry... I'll probably do a bit of both.