Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Subtle

Back when my Former Hypothetical Roommate was neither former, nor hypothetical we used to watch a few t.v. shows rather regularly. Among these was the classic Blind Date which, as you probably guessed, is a reality show following two persons on a blind date. What makes this show simply wonderful isn't the flat-out awkwardness of many of the dates, nor the idiocy of the participants, but the graphics that pop up on screen during the show. It's a little like MST3K applied to romance.

In any case, one episode featured a date between a relatively quiet muscle-bound man, and his extremely talkative date.* She was telling him some involved story while looking at clothing in a small boutique** and, when she finally reached the climax, it went something like this:

Woman: So then he took her home and he f----d her right in the butt.

Man: ...

Woman: If you know what I mean.


At this point, the FHR and I burst out laughing and couldn't stop for quite some time. I mean, honestly, tears were running down our faces and we could hardly see. If we know what she means? How on earth could we not know what she means? There was no innuendo there, no witty repartee, she pretty much just flat out told us what had happened and then behaved as though she were being delicate.

I'm reminded of all that by a bit of news from Iraq. In all the recent news of violence it has come to my attention that we are now, in Iraq, engaged in "Operation: Enforcing the Law." Seriously. I, like you, am used to cheesy military op names like "Enduring Freedom," or "Desert Shield," and so on. Operations usually have great, fancy names that tell you little or nothing about the actual goals. So, needless to say, it's a little surprising to see this sudden break from tradtion.

It makes me wonder what's next? Perhaps, "Operation Enforcing the Law, if you Know what I Mean." Maybe "Operation Drive into Tikrit and Fuck Some Shit Up," or even "Operation Posture For Tehran." How awesome would that be? Pretty soon the method would catch on in the private sector and we might get to see an announcement that a utility company was initiating, "Operation Face It- We Can Charge Whatever the Hell We Want Because We Own the Local Congressmen." I can't wait.

So, I salute you crazy operation-naming guys. You may not be very creative, but at least you're honest.


* Yes, I know: this description fits about 90% of the episodes on blind date. So sue me.

** French for "Holy shit is this crap expensive!"

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

I'm not listening!

Many of us grew up with siblings- brothers or sisters with whom we had to learn to get along. Most of us, by this point in our lives, have probably learned to like our kin or, failing that, to at least tolerate them. Yet, this was not always so. For many of us there was probably a time when we fought like cats and dogs and went out of our way to cause trouble for our dear sibling. In addition there were the constant feuds and arguments: who got to choose the television channel, who had to do what chore, and of course who was right about some absurd question or other. Frequently, I'm sure, we can remember our sibling sticking their fingers in their ears and screaming, "I'm not listening!" after which they would begin frantically screaming, "La la la la..."

I was reminded of that most time-honored of practices the other day when I learned of the existence of a rather curious thing. Most or all of you are doubtless aware of Wikipedia, an online, user-edited encyclopedia. I use wikipedia rather frequently as a reference because it has a fantastic selection of obscure information. It also, more often than not, is pretty accurate although, as you might imagine, the "user-edited" part sometimes leads to some funny outcomes. If nothing else, wikipedia is a useful starting point, although one certainly shouldn't rely on it exclusively.

With this in mind, you will no doubt be excited to learn something: Wikipedia, apparently, has a liberal bias. I say that this is so because a group of enterprising young souls have taken it upon themselves to create a "fair and balanced" alternative that goes by the name "Conservapedia." I shit thee not. As the site itself explains* Conservapedia was started to correct a pernicious liberal bias in wikipedia including, but not limited to:

"Wikipedia allows the use of B.C.E. instead of B.C. and C.E. instead of A.D. The dates are based on the birth of Jesus, so why pretend otherwise? Conservapedia is Christian-friendly and exposes the CE deception."

"The entry for the Renaissance in Wikipedia refuses to give enough credit to Christianity."

"Wikipedia often uses foreign spelling of words, even though most English speaking users are American. Look up "Most Favored Nation" on Wikipedia and it automatically converts the spelling to the British spelling "Most Favoured Nation", even there there are far more American than British users. Look up "Division of labor" on Wikipedia and it automatically converts to the British spelling "Division of labour," then insists on the British spelling for "specialization" also.[3]. Enter "Hapsburg" (the European ruling family) and Wikipedia automatically changes the spelling to Habsburg, even though the American spelling has always been "Hapsburg". Within entries British spellings appear in the silliest of places, even when the topic is American. Conservapedia favors American spellings of words."

"Edits to include facts against the theory of evolution are almost immediately censored. On Conservapedia, contributions that meet simple rules are respected to the maximum extent possible."

"The Wikipedia entry for the Piltdown Man omits many key facts, such as how it was taught in schools for an entire generation and how the dating methodology used by evolutionists is fraudulent."


So, in short: Wikipedia is bad because Christians are responsible for everything good, Americans speak the best English, and evolution is bad. Woo-hoo.

In the hopes of understanding all this a bit better let's do a side-by-side comparison of Conservapedia and Wikipedia and see what we get. We'll search both wikipedia and conservapedia for the same term and see what is produced. The terms of interest? Well, let's start with "faith."

A search of wikipedia yields this article, which begins as follows:

Faith is a belief, trust, or confidence, not necessarily based on logic, facts, reason, or empirical data, but based fundamentally on volition often associated with a transpersonal relationship with a deity, a higher power, a person, elements of nature, and/or a perception of the human race as a whole. Faith can be placed in a person, inanimate object, state of affairs, proposition or body of propositions such as a religious creed. [links omitted to preserve my sanity]


The article then continues in that vein examining a wide variety of issues related to faith in some detail. On the other hand, a search of Conservapedia reveals this article, which indicates in its entirety:

Faith is complete trust or confidence in an unseen, loving power. Its root is the Latin word "fidere", meaning "to trust".

Jesus was unique in preaching the significance of faith and it is exclusive to Christianity. No other religion is based on faith as distinguished from mere belief. Faith is mentioned 229 times in the Bible's New Testament. An example is Jesus observing the powerful healing faith of a Roman centurion: "Assuredly I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!" (Matthew 8:10)

The concept of faith is mentioned only twice in the Old Testament (KJV).

In the Koran, the concept of submission to Allah is mentioned 11 times, while the concept of faith in Allah is mentioned only once.

Some (particularly non-Christians) dilute the meaning of faith, depriving it of its power and significance. The Merriam-Webster dictionary, for example, includes this watered-down definition of faith: "a system of religious beliefs."[1] Under this meaning, any and every religion has "belief" or "faith". But faith preached uniquely by Jesus obviously refers to something far more precise than any "a system of religious beliefs," and such faith has never been preached in the same way by non-Christian religions.


Hmmm... okay. Well, that was fun. Let's try another. How about evolution?

When we query wikipedia we get this article, which begins with:

In biology, evolution is the change in a population's inherited characteristics, or traits, from generation to generation. These traits are encoded as genes that are copied and passed on to offspring during reproduction. Random changes in these genes can produce new or altered traits, resulting in differences between organisms. Evolution occurs when these different traits become more common or rare in a population. This can occur randomly through genetic drift, or based on the reproductive value of traits through natural selection.

Under natural selection, organisms with traits that help them to survive and reproduce tend to have more offspring. In doing so, they will pass more copies of inheritable beneficial traits on to the next generation. This leads to advantageous traits becoming more common in each generation, while disadvantageous traits become rarer.[1][2][3] Over time, this process can result in varied adaptations to changing environmental conditions.[4] As differences in and between populations accumulate, new species can evolve. All known species are descended from a single ancestor through this process of gradual divergence.[1][5][6]

The theory of evolution by natural selection was first put forth in detail in Charles Darwin's 1859 book On the Origin of Species. In the 1930s, Darwinian natural selection was combined with Mendelian inheritance to form the modern evolutionary synthesis.[4] With its enormous explanatory and predictive power, this theory has become the central organizing principle of modern biology, providing a unifying explanation for the diversity of life on Earth.[7][8][9] [links removed to, once more, preserve my sanity]


It then continues for a considerable period of time discussing the basics of evolution, mechanisms for evolution, and even evidence for evolution, finishing up with a section on controversies.

When we turn to Conservapedia, we find this article which begins pretty well:

The Theory of Evolution, introduced by scientist and naturalist Charles Darwin in his book On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or The Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life, published in 1859, is a scientific theory that explains the process of evolution via natural selection. The basic principle behind natural selection, states that in the struggle for life, some organisms in a given population will be better suited to their particular environment and thus have a reproductive advantage, increasing the representation of their particular traits over time.


This intro, aside from lacking detail and emphasizing the "theory" bit isn't bad. Then, however, we get into the subsections which are real howlers. There's the section on the field of biology which begins with:

Evolutionists have no real evidence that macroevolution occurs and there is no consensus on how it allegedly occurs as can be seen below:


In the section on the fossil record we have this fantastic introduction:

Creationists can cite material showing that there is no real fossil evidence for the macroevolutionary position and that the fossil record supports creationism:


And, finally, the article ends in less than two pages with that fabulous old creationist claim about thermodynamics:

Evolution does in fact lower the entropy of the sum of the living DNA on this planet. The mechanism used by evolution to lower entropy is the collection and storage of information about trait survivability on strands of molecules called DNA. The theory of Evolution says that this information collects naturally through non-random selection from offspring variation.


Which is misleading and false and can be shown to be so with minimal effort.

So far, Conservapedia isn't stacking up too well. That's a shame, but at least it doesn't get vandalized, right?

Then again, to judge by the entry on St. Valentine's Day, I wouldn't bet on it:

Not meant for this guy --> Image:Img006.jpg

(He don't get laid on V.Day...everyone else does! Even MountainDew!) [Note: the link in the original entry was broken, so I added a picture I thought appropriate]


So what's my point here? Am I condemning conservapedia? Well, yes and no. I'm certainly pointing out that it is by far inferior to wikipedia on a content basis, but I have no philosophical problem with it. Free speech is free speech and, if they want to do this, I'm not gonna stop them. I dislike the blatant disregard for facts and learning but, hey, what else is new?

Mostly I just want to say that I'm sorry. I'm sorry that the uber conservatives feel the need to abandon the fight and go hang out in their own clubhouse where everyone agrees with them. I'm sorry I won't get the benefit of their input any longer, or the pleasure of hearing what they have to say. Most of all, I'm sorry that conservatives feel they have to do this.

Because at the end of the day, shoving your fingers in your ears and screaming "I'm not listening" just doesn't do the trick.


* Please note that, based on the length of time it requires for conservapedia pages to load, I think the server must be located on the Moon, if not some alternate universe entirely.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Good Timing...

All of us, from time to time, do things that make us feel a tad awkward. For some of us, it's a speech impediment, for others, it's a displeasing bodily function and, for some of us, it's a propensity to say the wrong thing.

Whenever we feel awkward it can be uncomfortable and I, like many others, have had my fair share of these experiences. I would hesitate, in fact, to even guess at what my most awkward experience has been. To be perfectly honest, I was a pretty awkward kid and I really doubt I could easily pick a top-five, much less a number one.

All of that pales in comparison, however, to the awkwardness that would have resulted if certain information had come out a few years ago. For those who don't follow obscure Southern trivia and, thus, are otherwise unaware, it turns out that the ancestors of Al Sharpton were owned by none other than the ancestors of Strom Thurmond.* You wanna talk about awkward? Try that one on for size! I mean, let's imagine what that water cooler conversation would have been like:

Mornin' Al.

Mornin Strom.

Didja see the game last night?

Yep. That boy sure can throw, eh?

You betcha.

...

...

So...

So...

Turns out your grandpappy owned my grandpappy.

Yeah. I... I guess so.

What do you reckon that makes us?

Oh, nothin. That was a long time ago, Al. Things are different now.

Yeah?

Yeah.

All right- I'll let it go at that then.

Okay. Great.

...

Course, if you wouldn't mind fetching my dry cleaning this afternoon...


And then the race war starts. We can only shudder to think what would have happened if it turned out that Sharpton and Thurmond were related by blood. So, all things considered, it's probably just as well that Thurmond has already passed on to that great plantation in the sky** and, thus, can't make this whole mess any more bizarre than it already is.

Whew.


* Although, just to be fair, Thurmond was so old I'm not totally sure he didn't serve in the Confederate Army himself.

** Oh, sure, like you've never noticed the amazing similarity between Christian heaven and an idyllic view of an antebellum cotton plantation? The strong, paternalistic but loving master? The hard working, happy, worshipful slaves? The resemblance is uncanny- right down to the lashes for trying to escape. Strom would be real comfortable up there and, to be honest, I don't think he'd be particularly unwelcome.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Only six of you are going to find this funny...

Some of you may have noticed that my posts this week have been unusually pointless. There is, believe it or not, a good reason for this, which is that I am currently out of town attending the wedding of your friend and mine, Slag. During my journey to this wedding, however, I came across a sign in an airport that just speaks to me. Specifically, when it speaks to me it asks, "What would happen if a quantum physicist was moonlighting as an airport administrator?"

I think this is the answer:



This sign is obviously an oblique reference to a little known bit of physics history. Initially, Erwin Schrodinger developed a thought experiment known as "Schrodinger's Carry-on" to explain certain principles of quantum mechanics. In brief it read:

"Imagine a piece of hand-luggage to be used on a transatlantic zeppelin ride. The luggage is of a certain size and may or may not be able to fit in the overhead compartment. Until this hand-luggage is placed in the appropriate apparatus and observed, however, it is both too big and small enough simultaneously. Only when observed does the wave function collapse into a single state and the hand-luggage becomes either a check-bag or a carry-on."


Most students had a difficult time relating to this explanation, however, so he replaced it with his now better known experiment referred to as Schrodinger's Cat.*

And that's as far as I'm prepared to go to make a joke that only six of you will find amusing.


* Fun Physics Fact: This is the REAL cat from the thought experiment "Schrodinger's Cat":



His name is Fluffy and he collaborated with Schrodinger on several early, but revolutionary, papers. Fluffy's contributions to our understanding of particle spin states were particularly notable. Their relationship ended as a result of their disagreement about Nazism. Schrodinger detested Nazi anti-semitism but Fluffy supported the new Deutsche Physik and eventually worked on the Nazi atomic bomb program. His fate after the war remains uncertain but sources close to him report he was trying to learn Spanish.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Okay... well... that's interesting.

Followers of this blog know that I have been a graduate student for a fairly long time now.* This isn't that shocking in that the average time to finish has risen far beyond the "four years" many programs list in their catalogs. However, what it means demographically is that I've reached that unique academic status: the wisened old grad student.

Doubtless we all remember them from when we were in our first years of graduate school. We were fresh, excited, and a little scared. Graduate coursework was overwhelming, our advisors were terrifying, and some of us were having a hard time realizing that, while they call it graduate school it's really more of an on-the-job training program than anything else. During this first year we can also remember them. You know who I mean: older students. They stalked around the department, lost in conversations that were far too advanced for us to follow. When we spoke with them, they asked questions that were beyond our ken and, when they criticized, it was like getting slapped around by faculty- only worse, because they were supposed to be like us. They were in an odd way far more alien and terrifying creatures than faculty because they were similar to us and yet so very different- a sort of academic uncanny valley.

Given how I remember those older students it's odd to me to discover that I have, apparently, become one of them. Sure, I've been here a while. Sure, there are students younger than me and, sure, in many cases I have no idea who they are because I just never interact with them. To be frank I've really reached a point where I don't care all that much either- they're there, they'll always be there, I don't need to worry about it.** Still, it didn't really hit me that I was one of those older students until the other day when another, younger, grad student remarked to me, "You know the first-years are afraid of you."

"What?" I asked, "They're scared of me?"

Indeed, he responded that they were and attributed the information to a first-year who spends a little time in our office working on a project. When I asked her about this she admitted that it was true, although it was perhaps less fear and more simply uncertainty about what to do with me. To be frank I'm not sure that they need to do anything with me since I rarely have contact with the first-years en masse. So, you know, a plan of action seems fairly superfluous. All the same I appear to have followed the advice of Niccolo Machiavelli without ever intending to.

This raises an interesting queston: How am I to deal with this revelation? I could go out of my way to try and reassure the first-years, convincing them that I'm really a nice guy and that they should feel free to talk to me. On the other hand, I could use this as an excuse to confirm their worst fears. If I follow the first course I might win myself some new friends but, at the same time, will have to face the inevitable upswing in random questions about statistics and STATA- in other words an increase to the existing time-suck. On the other hand, if I demonstrate that their fears are warranted I won't get any new friends, but man will it ever be fun. I could be, essentially, the Janitor to their J.D.*** Who wouldn't enjoy that?

So, obviously, I'm going with the second option. I will become the nemesis of the first-year cohort much as I was the nemesis of my freshman year college roomie.**** As such, I'm taking suggestions: how would you suggest I torture the first-years for maximum fun and amusement? Surely someone will have some ideas!


* Indeed, there are no indications that my tenure as a graduate student will end any time soon. Damnit.

** I should probably also note that I'm not really all that friendly. This is not to say that I'm hostile, just that I'm not the most inviting character you're ever going to meet. Big shock, eh?

*** Although, I personally think I'm more of a Dr. Cox.

**** Among other things, I stole a pair of his shoes every day and hid them in different places around the room including, believe it or not, on the ceiling. Ah, duct tape, is there anything you can't make better?

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Fear the TIME CUBE!!

An officemate of mine recently decided to share a unique little website with me and, in turn, I feel compelled to share it with you. This website is special in that it has the dubious honor of being- hands down- the craziest goddamned thing I've ever seen. Now most of you realize that, thanks to the internet, I have seen a lot of crazy things. I have, for example, spent time reading about why the earth is flat. I know who Greg Buell is and have a keen appreciation for his work. I've even spent time chatting with the Masculists and am familiar with their crazier* cousins the No-Marriage-ites. So, you might safely claim that I have seen an awful lot of the weirdness** that the internet has to offer. Moreover I have chronicled as much of that weirdness as I can bear in my irregular feature The Insanity Parade.

And then came the TIME CUBE. Now, this is a website, true, and so resembles the usual brand of weirdness people send me. I had high hopes of using it to write another installment of the Insanity Parade. Instead, ladies and gentlemen, I'm afraid that I have to concede that this site is so over-the-top crazy that there is absolutely no way it could be featured in that laudable series. You see, a parade is at least an organized march from one point to another. It may involve a lot of strangeness and chaos but, at the end of the day, it goes somewhere. The TIME CUBE, on the other hand, is so utterly bewildering that it doesn't reach the level of "parade" and, instead, at best achieves, "drunken stagger" or perhaps, "zombie-like shamble."

Don't believe me? Well, then read this excerpt**** from the TIME CUBE website:

Gene Ray, Cubic and Wise Above Gods
*******************************************************

Cubicism, Not group theory. If ignorant of the almighty Time Cube Creation Truth, you deserve to be killed. Killing you is not immoral - but justified to save life on Earth for future generations. Academic taught singularity within universe of opposites, has lobotomized your mind. You are Enslaved by Word - no whip or shackle required. You do not have the freedom to discuss/debate Time Cube.


Shazaam! Please, Gene Ray "Cubic and Wise Above Gods," tell me more about the TIME CUBE!

Academia destroys your mind by suppressing opposite view. God equals self masturbation of mind - for opposites create. You are educated singularities.

YOU DESERVE DEATH - FOR SINGULARITY EVIL in the Universe of Opposites.


Okay: god=masturbation, education about singularities=death, singularity=evil, war=peace, ignorance=strength. Right, okay, I think I'm with you...

Santa & God debase women as if non-existing opposites. How evil unto their mothers.


Wait, hang on, what about Santa Claus now? Do he and god team up and go harass women or something? Because I hear Jehovah can get a little out of control sometimes.

Ignorant of Nature's Harmonic 4 Day Time Cube Creation, the Americans are Dumb, Educated Singularity Stupid and Evil. It's not immoral to kill Americans who IGNORE their OPPOSITE sex parents who Created them, but instead worship a queer jew who claims to make people out of dirt - when the body is 90 percent water. A God so stupid that he claims only a single day rotation of Earth - while my Cubic Wisdom has allowed me to create 4 simultaneous days within a single Earth rotation. Americans do not deserve life. They live only for today, the evil singularity word bastards.

DOG BRAIN STUDENTS


Yeah, okay, but what the hell is your great discovery? Can you at least tell me why I'm stupid and deserve death?

For as long as you dumbass, educated stupid and evil bastards IGNORE Cubic Creation, your sons and daughters deserve to die and be maimed in foreign lands - while killing innocent women and children. Keep ignoring me you evil asses and observe the slaughter of your children protecting the oil barons ripping off their families back home. The enemy is back home, not in foreign lands. Ignore me & keep counting the dead sons.


Dude! I'm not ignoring you! I'm right here! What are you talking about?

The educated stupid should acknowledge the natural antipodes of +1 x +1 = +1 and -1 x -1 = -1 exist as plus and minus values of opposite creation - depicted by opposite sexes and opposite hemispheres. Entity is death worship - for it cancels opposites.


Ummmm... math doesn't really work that way...

I do love that whole "educated stupid" thing, though. I'm fairly sure I have a few of those in my class this semester. Heh.

Hey, I think the thesis***** is coming up:

4 Day Cube disproves 1 Day God.

1-Midday to midday = a 24 hour day rotation.
2-Sundown to sundown = a 24 hour day rotation.
3-Midnight to midnight = a 24 hour day rotation.
4-Sunup to sunup = a 24 hour day rotation.


Wait... that's your revelation? And because you defined four "days" into existence you're superior to everyone else who just has one day per rotation? Well, hell, buddy: I've just discovered 24 equidistant points on the Earth that each rotate through a full day during just ONE rotation of the earth! That's six times as many days as your shitty little cubic theory! All hail Drek the Uninteresting, Multidimensional and Wisest Man! If you do not accept 24-day in day theory you deserve to be pecked to death by budgies with herpes! Only stupid dumb ass Gene Ray could ignore 24-day in day theory genius wonder. Best wisest creation of man.

Okay, sorry, all joking aside, this site is so crazy even I can't manage to read through it in total. Further, it's obvious that I can't really "analyze" or "critique" this in a traditional sense. What to do?

Well, as it happens, I have an answer. In keeping with the finest traditions of Total Drek, if I find it impossible to present a legitimate factual critique because the subject matter is so unimaginably crazy, I will do the next best thing: invent a drinking game.

The TIME CUBE Drinking Game!

Get your favorite liquor together and just follow these simple rules:

(1) When Gene Ray refers to himself as wisest or "doctor" do a shot.
(2) When he says someone deserves death, do a shot. If he just wants them to be maimed or otherwise harmed in some way short of death do half a shot.
(3) When he refers to academia do two shots.
(4) When he refers to Santa the youngest player has to do a shot.
(5) Every third time the text changes color do a shot.
(6) Every time he writes "+1 x +1 = +1" do three shots.
(7) Every time he writes "-1 x -1 = -1" do two empty shots, then one full shot, feel guilty for forgetting that, in TIME CUBE, negative one times negative one does not equal positive one.
(8) Every time you encounter the word "harmonic" all players must do a shot.
(9) Every time he talks about hemispheres or opposites, any two players who are facing each other have to do a shot.
(10) Every time you see the word cubic grab your nose: the last four people to do so must do a shot.
(11) If the TIME CUBE begins to make sense, the game is over: alcohol poisoning is imminent.

Sounds like fun, no?

Good luck, enjoy yourselves, and remember:

Any negative consequences of participating in this game are strictly the responsibility of the player. Seriously, if you get your drinking games from a blog, you really need to think about your decision making skills.

UPDATE: Check out this detailed explanation of the Time Cube and see if you're convinced. I know one of the commenters is!

* I have never been more conscious that "crazier" is indeed a relative, not an absolute, term.

** I've also seen much of the horror available on the internet, including such relatively innocuous images as "goatse.cx" and "tubgirl."***

*** If you don't know, don't ask. You'll lead a happier life.

**** Please be advised that I have removed the brain-searing color changes of the original site.

***** Keeping in mind both that I use the term "thesis" only in the loosest possible sense and that I've dramatically condensed the "prelude" to his thesis in order to save time and preserve your sanity.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The 1/2 Hour News Hour

Many of you may have heard that propaganda mill Fox News is starting a new Daily Show ripoff known as the "1/2 Hour News Hour."* I suppose you could say that it's their equivalent of "Air America." Some folks, I know, have been concerned that this might prove to be as successful as the Daily Show.

Well... um... I really don't think we need to worry. At all. The reason? If it sucked any more it would spontaneously develop an event horizon. Seriously, check it out:





It's more or less like watching the animatronic Lincoln in the Hall of Presidents try to deliver sex jokes.

So what have we learned? Well, simply that when media and politics mix, there appear to be comparative advantages. The conservatives are better at shrill incoherent ranting, but the liberals are actually amusing.

I'm satisfied with that.


* As a side note, judging by the format and artwork, I'm not sure they realized that the Colbert Report is satire.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

The Insanity Parade: Seeing is Believing Edition

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to another in our (highly) irregular series The Insanity Parade. In this series we examine and lampoon some bizarre website or other and hopefully learn something in the process. Realistically this almost never happens but if I can pretend that there's an educational purpose to all this I sleep better at night. Some of you may remember the last installment of the insanity parade when we examined the claims of Ramtha. As it goes without saying, her claims are complete and utter crap.

This time our subject matter comes to us courtesy of alert reader Bookmobile, who was nice enough to forward the link to a rather fascinating website. The site, named Fixed Earth has a fairly simple initial claim: that the Earth is not moving. Indeed, this website's goal appears to be to convince the rest of us that the Earth is indeed flat and that the Copernican Revolution in astronomy was all some sort of misunderstanding. If that isn't enough for you, he also hates evolution.

Now, to be honest, this is a fascinating website to me. As many of you know, I am something of an evolution proponent. As such I keep an eye on the Evolution/I.D. "debate" and often find myself growing frustrated with the sorts of arguments lobbed by the other side. One common rhetorical move is to point out that "evolution is only a theory." This idiotic assertion is then usually countered by scientists who point out that other major scientific theories include gravity, electricity, nuclear theory, and so on. Those theories all work well so, obviously, calling evolution a theory isn't much of a criticism. Now, normally I find this a fairly strong response and the I.D. people usually don't have much to challenge it with- I mean, hell, I think the I.D. folks are cranky but they at least believe in gravity, right? Well, maybe so, but it's pretty fascinating running across a creationist who literally thinks the world is flat. It's as though a cheap taunt has been made flesh ("Heh, you don't believe in evolution? Do you think the earth is flat too?") and I honestly don't know whether I should laugh or cry. Frequently I do both, but it freaks people out so I try to keep it to a minimum.

Fixed Earth does try to back its claims up with "evidence" but actually comprehending that evidence may prove difficult. Well, let me rephrase that: understanding the evidence is easy, grasping the arguments of the author is slightly harder. This is because they are, to put it simply, mind-numbingly incoherent. At the bottom of the Fixed Earth main page we find a set of links to 12 "Subject Areas." These include everything from Factless Copernican Model to No Excuse Left for Churches.* Within the first subject area, "Factless Copernican Model," we find a set of "articles" with names like Tycho Brahe Poisoned?! and Quotations From Contemporary Scientists Declaring A Non-Moving Earth Model Just As Valid As The Copernican Model.** Yummy!

Starting with the article Star Trails: A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words, we can begin to grasp the author's main point. He begins by posting a series of pictures of "star trails." These are long-exposure photographs of the night sky that show stars moving as the Earth rotates. If you point the camera in the direction of the North or South pole (depending on your hemisphere) you get what look like circles. So, they tend to look something like this:



Using these pictures, the author makes the following statements:


If you can do so for a few minutes, just lay aside the Copernican indoctrination that accompanies such pictures and take a good hard look at these photographs of something that really, really happens every single night.

Do you see what I see? I see all the visible stars in the northern skies going around the North Star in perfect circles. In other words, I see all the stars which these time exposures have recorded actually going around that navigational star that is there for we Earthlings in the Northern Hemisphere. Remember: the first two pictures are eight hour exposures. Again, look closely and you can see the third of a circle in the center and in the next star trail or so. This means that each star circles in one 24 hour day (i.e., 23 hours and 56 minutes).

You see that too, you say, but you "know" that this is really an illusion caused by the Earth rotating West to East ccw every 24 hours. Right? The stars are really not going around the Earth, you want to tell me (as if talking to a seven year old child). It just looks like they are moving because the Earth is rotating around its polar axis, and that rotation gives us the illusion that the stars are actually going around... as any fourth grader will explain to you. If you doubt that is what is really happening, just read under the pictures, for Pete’s sake! Most will tell you the same thing, and the others don’t bother because practically every literate person in the world knows that this is what is happening!

Well, this universally accepted explanation for this phenomena that we can watch with our own eyes and record on our own film is always the same. That is to say, we are assured that what we see and record with our cameras is an illusion caused by the Earth rotating on an axis in an East to West direction at an equatorial speed of c. 1040 MPH.

This universally accepted "explanation" is pure assumption! It is an "explanation" without the first piece of indisputable evidence to support it...and it is in denial of the plentiful evidence that rejects it!

The untouched photos themselves plainly and precisely "explain" what happens to the stars every 23 hours and 56 minutes, namely: They go around a stationary Earth! What we’ve all been taught is an "explanation" is--in fact--just one of seven interdependent assumptions which all interact to uphold the moving Earth mythology.


So, to sum all this up, he makes the argument that because the sky appears as though the stars are moving in circles they must really be doing so. We don't need to worry about perceptions- seeing is believing and we always correctly interpret what we see. This is, obviously, a pretty big problem because often time what we think we see isn't really what's there. Consider for a moment a man and a woman walking down the street together. They're smiling and laughing and each are eating ice cream. They pass you deep in conversation. "Wow," you think, "What a nice couple. They must really love each other."

The problem, however, is that you didn't see them do anything that indicates conclusively that they are a couple. Perhaps they are romantically involved but, then again, maybe they're just close friends or, for that matter, siblings.*** Any of these interpretations would fit your observations and any of them may be correct. As such what you see (i.e. the two people walking) and what you perceive (i.e. a couple on a date) are very distinct and separable things. Similarly, what we see in the sky are rotating stars but that doesn't mean that the stars are literally rotating in a circle. They might be but, then again, they may only appear to do so because of our vantage point. It isn't that our observations of the sky are "wrong" but rather that we have to figure out what those observations really mean. There is a difference between sight and perception, or observation and inference, and concluding that your existing perception is wrong doesn't mean the original sight was wrong. Put more plainly- deciding that the two people were just friends doesn't change anything about what you observed.

Now, keeping this "model" in mind (the author's model of astronomy I mean), let's see what the author does with a major piece of supporting evidence for a Copernican model: solar eclipses. The author has much to say about this subject which I will present below, with my own comments added in [brackets].

The solar eclipse tableau involving the sun, moon, and earth reveals a truly amazing fact about the universal acceptance of the Copernican Heliocentric Model of a rotating earth orbiting a stationary sun. That amazing fact is this: The Eclipse Tableau exposes as no other illustration does the bald truth that the Helio Model is built purely on assumptions that deny all observational and experimental evidence.

[Okay, first off, all models contain assumptions. Secondly, what the hell do you mean about 'denying observational and experimental evidence'? We have some pretty damn solid predictions of when eclipses are going to occur! Those are, themselves, arguments in its favor.]

Notice these seven assumptions which are indispensable to the Helio Model in general and are so apparent in the Solar Eclipse Phenomena.

1) It must be assumed that the Sun is stationary in the "solar" system relevant to the Earth (and to the Moon) and that it has never traveled East to West daily across the sky as observed by everyone on Earth throughout all history.

[This isn't so much an assumption of the model as it is an assertion and, besides that, we return once again to that "perception versus observation" issue. Seeing is believing, but it's not always the case that we know what it is that we are seeing.]

2) Likewise, it must be assumed that the Earth rotates West to East ccw (counterclockwise) on an "axis" every 24 hours at an equatorial speed of c. 1040 MPH in spite of there being no hard evidence for this motion whatsoever.

[I'm not sure what you mean by "hard evidence" but, really, the success of the space program, the existence of artificial satellites, and Foucault's Pendulum seem like pretty good indications to me.]

3) It must be assumed that the Earth is also orbiting the Sun annually (ccw) at an average speed of c. 67,000 MPH.

[This is not so much assumed as calculated but that's not the point. Wait, that is the point!]

4) It must be assumed that the Earth’s axial alleged tilt of 23.5 degrees--in combination with its assumed annual orbit around the sun--is the only available scientific explanation for the seasons.

[No, that isn't assumed at all. What is observed is that the sun's output doesn't vary sufficiently with the seasons to account for the differing weather. The changes in the angle of the sun, however, are sufficient and are perfectly in accordance with a round, rotating earth that possesses the stated axial tilt. By the way, you should have written "alleged axial tilt" not "axial alleged tilt." I have no goddamn idea what an "axial alleged tilt" would be.]

5) The Earth’s atmosphere must be assumed to be just an airy, fixed extension of the alleged rotating Earth. It is assumed and must be assumed that this atmosphere must have the remarkable ability to synchronize speeds of objects in it at all altitudes--birds, clouds, jets, low orbit satellites, alleged geo-synchronous satellites over 22,000 miles out--and to be unaffected by alleged Earth movements of speeds ranging from 1000 MPH to 67,000 MPH to 500,000 MPH to 660,000,000 MPH. This assumption is mandatory once the rotating Earth assumption is made and can not be ignored in the helio model of the eclipse phenomena.

[Whuh? What the hell are you talking about? The atmosphere doesn't synchronize objects' speeds at all. It's simply that everything on earth also has rotational velocity and, when you leave the surface, that velocity doesn't just go away. This is basic physics. Likewise, the current model doesn't include an atmosphere shell that extends all the way up to satellites- they're orbiting beyond the majority of the atmosphere, which is why they stay up so damned long in the first place. If you're going to make a bizarre argument, at least make it against real physics and not some freaky strawman physics from bizarro world!]

6) A particularly fantastic assumption necessary to accommodating the precise Solar Eclipse Phenomena in the Helio Model involves the bold reversal of the Moon’s observed direction of travel. Acceptance of this occult slight of hand from the Arcane Math Department of Mystic U. has no basis in reality, of course. Rather, it must be coupled with prior acceptance of the other assumptions of a rotating Earth orbiting a stationary Sun. No moon reversal means no accurate eclipse forecasts and no accurate eclipse forecasts means no heliocentricity model.

[No "moon reversal," as you put it, also means we couldn't land probes on the moon because it wouldn't be where we expected it to be! Evidently the author can't grasp the basic idea that if you're on a body that rotates faster than another object orbits in the same direction, that object will appear to move backwards. Likewise I can only assume that he wonders why, when he climbs on an office chair and spins it around, the entire world turns but he remains stationary. Indeed, quite a mystery. Hey, come to think of it, if he tried that little experiment with a person walking the same direction around the chair as he was spinning I think he'd see what I'm saying. Then again, that's just bunkum from "Mystic U," right crazy guy?]

7) It must be assumed that the Stars do not move around the Earth diurnally as observed by everyone who has ever lived.

[Again, not so much an assumption as an assertion of the model.]

Each one of these seven assumptions is dependent on the other six. They are all interdependent and totally without observational or experimental support. They are solely mathematical models contrived to account for eclipse and other phenomena and replace the fact that what we actually see explains the phenomena.

[And that's utter falsehood.]


I could continue quoting from this lunatic, but I really don't think I need to. The simple truth is that there is a wealth of evidence for a round, rotating earth. The parabolic trajectories of airliners, the observed curvature of the planet from high altitudes, the space program, artificial satellites, gravity measurements at the poles and at the equator, and even simple things like pendulums and the ability to circumnavigate the planet. The only possible way to believe that the earth isn't round and rotating is to be ignorant- and not just ignorant but willfully ignorant because otherwise the overwhelming preponderance of evidence is simply inescapable.

But, of course, this doesn't stop people from clinging to their ignorance anyway- especially when, as in this case, they can claim that their ignorance is heroic resistance of an imposed ideology. Specifically, the author claims that modern physics is just a dirty jew conspiracy. Goo goo g' joob. Well, if we're gonna be nutty, we may as well be racist as well. Once you add in his horrid spelling and grammar, we've hit the internet crank trifecta.

This also demonstrates something else- that from time to time people may be so desperate to refute one thing, that they stumble into even deeper idiocy. Do you think that the Fixed Earth page is stupid? Probably- but some of your elected officials don't. It turns out that State Representative Ben Bridges of Georgia recently sent a memo to Texas State Representative Warren Chisum that was then forwarded to the entire Texas Assembly. What was this memo about, you ask? Why, a way to get evolution out of schools by "proving" that it, and modern physics, are simply crazy Jew talk. Think I'm kidding? Check out this quote:

Indisputable evidence—long hidden but now available to everyone—demonstrates conclusively that so-called “secular evolution science” is the Big-Bang 15-billion-year alternate “creation scenario” of the Pharisee Religion. This scenario is derived concept-for-concept from Rabbinic writings in the mystic “holy book” Kabbala dating back at least two millennia. Evidence in the URLs below show conclusively that “evolution science” has a very specific religious agenda and (as with “creation science”) cannot legally be taught in taxpayer supported schools according to the Constitution.


Amazingly enough all of this does, in fact, originate with the Fixed Earth website and that is what those referenced links point to. It's not just internet cranks anymore but also elected officials who seem to think that the earth is flat. And, of course, they believe it in order to protect their faith.

Sight is a powerful thing and, as a scientist, I'm a big believer in observation as a way of settling disputes. The problem, however, is that what we see often isn't what we get. Our observations are, instead, just an imperfect window into a complex world and we have to recognize that our perceptions may not always match reality. Just because that cloud looks like a penis, it doesn't mean god is molesting us with the sky, and just because the sun appears to orbit the earth, it doesn't mean it really does.

I suppose most conservatives recognize this. I suppose most of them think that the earth is round and that it does orbit the sun. I suppose that any day now they will take a stand in favor of science and opposed to mindless rejection of solid research. I suppose all of this might be true...

But I'll believe it when I see it.



* Despite how that last one sounds, I think he means "No excuses left for churches to accept modern astronomy," as opposed to the more apparent interpretation, "No excuses left for churches, so let's just get rid of all of them."

** As it happens, I've run into this claim before and the explanation is simple. Astronomers readily admit that a fixed-earth model is adequate for a lot of observations so long as the model is sufficiently detailed. This is where the "celestial sphere" comes from. Thus, scientists aren't literally claiming there's no difference, only that for certain applications a fixed-earth approximation is sufficient. This is much the same as how Newtonian physics are a sufficient approximation of real physics to work in most circumstances.

*** My sister and I look very little alike, as it happens, so people who don't know us have from time to time mistaken us for a married couple. This really creeps us out, but we've made our peace with it.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Image.

The other day, looking for a short break from my labors, I came across a rather fascinating little quiz entitled, "Which enemy of the Christian Church are you?" Having been told on several occasions that I am an enemy of Christianity, I thought I would take this little quiz and see what it indicated. As it happens, the outcome will likely not surprise anyone:



On the one hand, this does speak well of the validity of this instrument as I am, indeed, an atheist. On the other hand, I'm a little uncomfortable seeing atheists described in such uncompromising terms. Do I believe I'm right? Hell yes. Is that an excuse to cop an attitude? Not so much, no. Even more baffling to me, however, is the depiction of atheists. Okay, trenchcoats? Sunglasses? The DNA helix I sorta get, but what's with that dude in the back with the firearm? I can only surmise that they're going for some sort of Matrix "You've seen through the illusion" reference, but it's still a smidge weird.* Why is it that atheists are always depicted as some sort of cross between intellectuals, hipsters, and the trenchcoat mafia? Then again, given how I've previously represented myself, maybe I shouldn't complain:



It's not that I'm complaining, either, it's just that I think we atheists have something of an image problem. As I've remarked on previously, atheists aren't well-liked and, often, for fairly bizarre reasons. This has come to the fore with the recent hubbub over Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan. For those who don't know, both women were webmasters for the John Edwards campaign and both, as it happens, have written some fairly pointed things about religion on separate blogs. The right wing has been going absolutely batshit looney as a result, claiming that this is an example of the Left's hypocrisy. Specifically, arguing that for Liberals it's okay to mock men, Conservatives and Christians, but not to mock women, Liberals or non-Christians. Never mind that Marcotte has some legitimate criticisms of Catholic doctrine as it pertains to birth control. Never mind the sort of shit that spews forth from the right on a regular basis: left-wing atheists** are hypocrites.

Folks, all I'm going to say right now is this: the entire controversy is goddamn stupid. Should the Edwards campaign have hired these women? Well, probably not. However much I support their right to say what they will, and my position on free speech is pretty goddamn consistent, the U.S. is a predominantly Christian country. As an atheist who has been critical of religion in the past, I more or less know my chances of being elected to public office are zero. I'm sure Bobby Henderson knows the same thing. If he doesn't, it isn't because people haven't told him. So, from a political standpoint, Edwards screwed up. That said, the Right is just being childish about all of this. Oh, really? Were your feelings hurt? Do you want a lollipop? Considering how you responded when another group was similarly offended, it's mighty hard for me to care about your objections now.

Grow up. Maybe we atheists have an image problem but it could be worse.

We could be like you.


* Neo: You mean when I give up religion I can dodge bullets?
Morpheus: I'm saying that when you give up religion, you won't have to.
Neo: ...
Neo: You're an idiot.

** As a side note, I haven't actually confirmed that these women are atheists. I'm assuming they are because the Raving Atheist is referring to them as such.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Because I'm busy, damnit!

Today I'm afraid you won't get much of a blog post because I'm behind schedule. This is not attributable to any personal sloth so much as the necessities of the medical establishment. Specifically, I spent my morning being poked, probed, and tested as part of my ongoing bizarro medical issues. The results of this testing, at the moment, appear to primarily be that I do in fact have lungs that enable me to metabolize oxygen. Woo-hoo.

To keep you occupied while I try to catch up with my real work, allow me to direct you to the fine Webcomic xkcd. It won't take you long to figure out why I like this comic but, for those who are lazy, allow me to touch on a few of the high points:

A succinct explanation for my love of science:



An honest Valentine card:



An illustration of my attitude towards existential angst:



A portrait of James Bond as a young physicist:



And finally, the most romantic use of angular momentum I've ever seen:



So head on over and take a look. It's smart, it's fun, and it's a helluva lot more educational than this blog.

What more can you ask?

As a side note: My read of the author's page suggests he's cool with my linking to his images. If I'm wrong about that, somebody let me know.

As an additional side note: For those who are curious, my medical issues MAY be all fixed or I MAY need more surgery. Stay tuned- I should find out myself pretty soon now.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Valentine's Day Celebrity Republican Madlibs!

Happy Valentine's Day, y'all.

In honor of the day, I want to reprint some comments from last week by America's sweetheart, Condoleeza Rice.* But to keep things interesting, I will record what she told a Congressional hearing, Mad Libs-style:

"I believe there is an assault on democracy in [COUNTRY] and I believe that there are significant human rights issues in [COUNTRY]... I do believe that the president of [COUNTRY] is really, really destroying his own country, economically, politically."

Correct answer: Venezuela

Rice was of course referring to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who recently sponsored passage of a law granting him right to rule by decree for 18 months. But if you filled in the madlib with "The United States," you could certainly see some parallel's with Rice's boss and his attempts to increase his own powers to spy on, arrest, imprison, and torture U.S. citizens as suspected terrorists.

Seriously, Chávez scares me. Any time a democratically elected leader takes steps to overhaul the process of democracy in his country, this is a cause for concern. I'm sure Rice and her supporters would agree with me there. A left-wing dictator is no better than a right-wing dictator. Again, I'm sure that they would agree.

But let's keep an open mind about what the dangers are.


*I'm somewhat joking about her being America's sweetheart, but there are a lot of people who really like her as a politician and a person, and I think it's good to see a strong woman in a position of power in Bush's White House.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

You can lead a horse to water...

Longtime readers of this blog know that I enjoy teaching undergraduates. This isn't to say that I want to spend most of my time teaching, or that I have some sort of obsession with it, it's just that it's an interesting challenge that counterbalances my research endeavors. Over the years I've had a lot of different students and, for the most part, have liked them. I've had smart students and not so smart students, motivated students and unmotivated students, and I've had friendly students and quite unfriendly students. It's been an exciting ride.

Recently I have encountered my most challenging student yet: a young woman who seems to not simply be unmotivated, but to actually be the anti-motivation. In the same sense that when you combine matter with anti-matter they mutually annihilate, I believe that when you combine this woman's anti-motivation properties with my own drive to work, they destroy each other. This student drives me absolutely crazy not because she's stupid* or because she isn't really interested in the material** but because she is actually spending energy to avoid learning the information. I'm serious. She asks a question, I begin answering it, and I can see the wheels of frustration turning in her head. I can see her thinking, "Why is he explaining all this to me? I just want quick fill-in-the-blank answers. I don't want to think!" And I know that sounds arrogant but, as my officemates could attest, I am being extremely honest here. I have a student who absolutely does not want to learn and it is frustrating the hell out of me.

This is an issue, however, not simply because I get frustrated but because it's provoking me. The other day she was in my office for a considerable length of time before class getting help.*** After attempting to fight my way- yet again- through her dense cloud of anti-motivation I told her that I needed to finish preparing for class and we could pick this back up afterwards. As I went to leave my office for a few moments to refill my water bottle and collect myself, she exclaimed in a half-angry/half-plaintive voice, "I don't get it, I'm going to fail, and it's NOT FAIR!" I stopped and turned around but managed not to say anything as, given my mood right then, I'm fairly sure I would have made her cry.

The real problem, however, as my Sainted Fiancee so astutely pointed out, is that this student has been coddled. She is sitting in my office essentially saying, "This is hard and that's not fair," because she's been allowed to get by without working. I don't know a solution to that problem and, unfortunately, I can't simply conclude that it is a problem limited to this student. I have run into more than a few students who seem to think that a "B" is theirs so long as they come to 60% of class meetings and continue breathing. When they discover otherwise, I usually have to weather a storm of bitterness. I am not the only one who has this experience either. I can only assume that other teachers have responded to this by caving in and lowering their standards- and I can't really blame them for that too much. Putting up with this shit day in and day out is almost more than I can stand. After another five or ten years worth, who knows? Maybe I'll cave too rather than continue battling against rampant sloth.

What happens in the end, however, is that we graduate students who can't think and don't know anything. Worse, they expect that everything will come easily and, as we all know, anything truly worth having doesn't often come easy. Am I exaggerating the problem? Maybe. Then again, we have some signs that I'm not. I refer in particular to recent problems over at Verizon. As is discussed extensively on the blog VerizonMath, it is increasingly apparent that many of those who work for the telecommunications company cannot do math. Well, that's not exactly true. They can apparently do math well enough to run a calculator, but are unfamiliar with the basic concepts of "counting" and "units." It sounds like I jest but, as this transcript makes clear, they don't seem to grasp the difference between "0.02 dollars" and "0.02 cents." As in, "2/100ths of a dollar" versus "2/100ths of a cent." Read it if you don't believe me, and then feel free to weep for the future.

On the one hand, this issue has sparked some great humor, including the rather playful entry below:



On the other hand it just highlights a very real problem. We need to find some way to keep standards high while still offering students opportunity. We need to emphasize teaching a little more. We need to make sure we're graduating students who genuinely know how to think at least a little. If we don't... well... I'd like to say we'll all suffer but, frankly, the suffering should be in the present tense.

As scientists we usually think of our job as discovering fact. This is true, as far as it goes, but we have to recognize that if we cannot, or do not, communicate those facts then we may as well never have learned them in the first place.

If we can harness the atom and map the genome we can certainly do this. So let's get off of our asses and actually do it.

Otherwise, in all honesty, I don't know that we're any different from our worst students- too lazy to do what is hard and complaining when it is asked of us.


* I honestly can't tell- the motivation problem is too severe.

** As it so happens she isn't interested in the material, which I know without question because she's told me so.

*** Outside my office hours no less.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Well goddamnit!

Folks who have read this blog for any quasi-significant period of time realize that I am an enormous fan of free speech. I just love it and, consequently, spend a lot of time on my blog talking about it. I even have a number of policies devoted to it- such as my willing acceptance of pretty much any comment no matter how stupid or insulting, my tendency to not re-write past posts even if I realize I was a total cock-monger, and my standing offer to publish rebuttals from those who are criticized on my site. This is not to say that I'm a prince or anything, just that I at least make the effort to practice what I preach.

Sadly, however, my openness on these issues is being abused. Now, I really like comments and I've received some good ones. As a result of a post on the madness that is Ramtha I've been involved in a pretty involved discussion with my own Sainted Fiancee. In response to a post about those wacky guys the Masculists I've received feedback not only from the founder of the Masculists but also from a compatriot of his who has only a passing familiarity with the English language. Neat!

Unfortunately, these sorts of comments have not been the only ones I've been receiving. Recently I have been getting a lot of comment spam. Worse, comment spam that doesn't even pretend to be legitimate. For example, a while back I wrote a post titled Gambling in reference to President Bush's military policy. In response I've received several comments which both advertise gambling sites. One of them actually suggested that Bush use one of these sites to practice gambling so that he'd do better with the troops. These annoyed me, and other instances of comment spam have been showing up here and there, but what finally killed it for me was a comment left to last Friday's post on rape, abortion, and religious extremism. This comment was nothing more or less than an advertisement for synthetic motor oil! This is really the straw that broke the camel's back and, so, I have an announcement: Total Drek is instituting comment moderation in order to cut down on this crap. Please take a look at the following...

Total Drek Moderation Policy:

(1) Comments will be moderated:

Comments will be submitted to me via e-mail before appearing on the site so that they can be examined for content. Comments consisting of inappropriate content will be deleted without appearing on the site. All other comments will appear as soon as possible. This does not mean you should e-mail me your comments- the comment system will take care of that for you- it just means that there will be a delay between when you submit a comment and when it appears.

(2) Appropriate content:

Appropriate content for comments includes: Thoughtful, constructive criticism or additions to the posts. Unhelpful scathing critiques. Arguments against what I say. Arguments against other commenters. Insults directed at me, the staff, or other commenters. Rude remarks. Self-deprecating remarks. Hateful remarks. Swearing. Profanity. Suggestive language. Good jokes. Bad jokes. Not funny jokes. Jokes about your mom. Jokes about my mom. Jokes about somebody else's mom. Generally speaking, anthing not included under "Inappropriate content."

(3) Inappropriate content:

Advertisements of goods and services- particularly if those goods either have nothing to do with the subject of the post, or are tangentially related in a way that is actually pretty tasteless. Exceptions may be made for unusually funny or oddly appropriate advertisements. I've never seen anything that would fall into this category but, hell, you never know, right?

(4) General moderation information:

Appropriate comments will be cleared as soon as I possibly can get to them. I really don't care what you say so long as you're not trying to waste my time, and my readers' time, with unsolicited ads. I really don't like much of anyone so don't bother complaining. I know this is a pain in the ass but, frankly, the spam is just too ridiculous for me to put up with any longer.

Thank you.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

The Lion and the Lamb

A while back I wrote a post dealing with moves by some pharmacists to refuse to dispense birth control. At the time I argued that, while I found their actions personally objectionable, I wasn't sure we could oppose their right to refuse. Simply put, there are enough instances when we have lionized those who refused to participate with what they saw as injustice for us to legitimately change our tune now. This isn't, of course, to say we can't do anything- I suggested that pharmacists have the right to refuse and we have the right to fire their asses- but that's not the point.

More recently, however, I have come across something that I think is an exception to this basic rule. I refer to a recent case of rape from Tampa, Florida. To give you a little background:

First, police say, a 21-year-old woman was raped at Gasparilla. Then, she was handcuffed and jailed - for two nights and two days.

...

The premedical student attended Saturday's Gasparilla parade and veered off from her friends shortly before 1:30 p.m., police said. The Times is not naming her because police say she is a victim of a sexual crime.

As she walked north on Howard Avenue at Swann Avenue, she was grabbed by a man with crooked teeth and raped behind a building, McElroy said.

After the assault, the man ran off. The woman walked to her car, which was parked on the University of Tampa campus. At 3:40 p.m., after finding her vehicle, she called police.

As police assisted her, taking her to a nurse examiner's clinic, and processing her report, an officer found two outstanding warrants for the woman in Sarasota County.

Attorney Virlyn "Vic" Moore III of Venice said his client was seated in the front seat of the police cruiser, on her way to the scene of her attack when the officer learned of the warrant, cuffed her and placed her in the back seat.

...

The student had failed to pay $4,585 restitution after a 2003 juvenile arrest, McElroy said. Moore said his client is convinced that she paid the fine and that the warrant was probably the result of a clerical error.


Now, by itself this makes me uneasy. This woman reported a brutal crime and, in return, was placed under arrest. I have no diea whether or not the warrant is valid, but given what the warrant is for, I think less rash action was feasible.

What makes me really queasy is what happened to this poor woman next:

A jail worker with religious objections blocked her from ingesting a morning-after pill to prevent pregnancy, her attorney says, keeping her from taking the required second dose for more than 24 hours longer than recommended.


To provide a little more detail, we find the story with a quote from the victim's lawyer in USA Today:

"She was not allowed to take her morning-after pill that morning, even though she was crying and begging for it. The nurse didn't want to give her the pills because it was against (the worker's) religion."


Refusing to dispense preventative birth control to free people is one thing. Refusing to dispense emergency contraception to a rape victim is a different, much worse thing. But refusing to dispense birth control to a rape victim who is imprisoned and unable to take other action? That goes way beyond "different" into the realm of self-absorbed, egotistical evil. What's next? Refusal to dispense anti-psychotics because you believe schizophrenia is speech from god? How about we don't give out antibiotics because it's interfering with god's will that someone die?

Look, crazy religious freaks, I really want to be fair and protect your rights. I disagree with you, but I really, really want to support your ability to participate in the political process. Here's the thing, though: you like to talk about how the meek will inherit the Earth, about how pride goes before a fall. You like to talk about how the lion will lay down with the lamb and we should turn the other cheek.

So why did you keep a screaming, begging woman who had been brutally violated away from her legally prescribed medication? Where did you get the right to make that choice for her when society and common decency gave it to her and her alone?

If the meek are going to inherit the earth, I think we can all agree that you won't be among them.

Thank god.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

It's like Consumer Reports crossed with a slander charge.

Just about all of us have past romantic partners we'd rather forget. In my case, for example, there's that girl I dated for six months who, by all accounts, hated me. You might wonder why I dated someone for so long despite a certain amount of venom and I can really only say that it was because I'm stupid.* Others I know have dated people who have engaged in sexual relations outside their own species, who have carved things into their own stomachs with sharp objects, and who believed they could communicate with insects. Indeed, dating is an exciting world I am not sorry to be leaving.

One of the major problems with dating, of course, is that it's difficult to know exactly what you're getting yourself into. Your date may look cute, act sweet, and clearly be highly intelligent, but turn into a raging psycho with little or no provocation. Sadly, there's no easy way to tell what's really going on under the hood** until it's far, far too late to avoid the issue entirely. We can always ask our friends, of course, but unless you regularly pass dates around a small group of friends*** this approach is of fairly limited use.

Well, thanks to the miraculous power of the internet**** some folks have found a way to rectify this situation. I refer, of course, to Don't Date Him Girl, a website that more or less qualifies as the anti-Match.com. This free site allows women to post information and photographs of previous bad dates, effectively warning other women away from them. So, for example, if we go looking for someone of late college age in my hometown we might find this gentleman, who is now immortalized on a cheap website.

Really I'm of two minds about this. On the one hand, it would be nice to have a way to learn something about a potential date before it's too late to do anything about it. On the other hand, a boatload of mean-spirited gossip probably won't help. Let's be realistic too: we could all say negative things about everyone we've dated and, obviously, if they're an "ex" there's a reason why. The population of unsatisfied reports will, more or less by definition, always exceed the positive reports. When you factor in that people using this site have ample motivation to heap as much blame on others as possible***** I think that we can really question the value of this site.

Then again the site is a great source of unintentional humor. For example, there's the section titled Empower Yourself which includes such great articles as Things to do on Superbowl Sunday while your man watches the game. Sure, a lot of men like football, but isn't it a little sexist to think that most women have no idea what to do with themselves if their partners are busy? Do women not have their own interests beyond men or something? It also doesn't help that the first two options are:

1. Shop! Grab another gal pal and hit the mall, girl! Or grab your goods online.

2. Pamper yourself. Make an appointment with your favorite masseur and work out the kinks while your man watches football and drinks beer for a few hours.


Yes, very empowering. I can see that.

There's also the faq file that includes such gems as:

Q Is this site for women only?

A No, both men and women can participate in the online forum. Women post their bad dating experiences and the men who are posted on the site can post rebuttals. In addition, both male and female users can post comments to any posting by becoming a member today.


Sooooo... I can be accused, without evidence, and then get to "rebut" the charges? And I would do that how exactly? Honestly, it's sounds like a dating site set up by Joe McCarthy. When you add in the forums and the ability to leave comments- it's like getting to watch several dozen relationship fights at once which, in my view, is right up there with trepanation on my list of things that I enjoy.

I think it's an interesting idea but one that is doomed to failure- largely because it's almost completely impractical. It also has the unfortunate distinction of being even less tasteful than the infamous Rate my Rack. I mean, hell, at RmR at least inclusion is more often than not voluntary.

Take a look and see what you think. And hey, if you look for your old beaus don't worry... I think that's what we all do.


* Okay, to be honest, I dated her for so long because, despite her hostility, she BELIEVED she really cared for me and I didn't want to upset her before she finished her senior thesis.

** Get your minds out of the gutter, guys. I don't mean it that way. Although, if you're good, someday I'll tell you the story of The Girl with the Inee Nipples. It's a shocker.

*** Suddenly I'm thinking about my high school friends. Date recycling was something of an artform then.

**** Now with even MORE porn!

***** As a side note, Practicing Idealist recently wrote a post discussing exactly why heaping blame on others might not be such a good thing.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Imperfection.

Unless you've been living under some sort of rock or have otherwise been out of touch with reality, you've doubtless heard the news about Astronaut Lisa Nowak. For those who don't know (i.e. have been living under that rock) Nowak has been arrested in Orlando on charges of attempted murder among other things.

The full sordid details of the case have yet to come out, but it appears now that she drove from Texas to Florida for the purpose of, according to her, speaking with her romantic rival. This doesn't sound so bad but it's important to keep in mind that her car contained an air pistol, pepper spray, latex gloves, a knife, and garbage bags among other things. I may be somewhat unusual, but these are not in my view elements of a polite conversation with a stranger. Indeed, it appears that Nowak likely agrees with my assessment as she claims the air pistol was intended to entice her rival into a conversation. "Entice" in this case should be read as "coerce." As for the pepper spray... she admits that was a bad idea. So, we have what appears to be a near attempted murder by an astronaut.

Of course the media is having a good time with all of this. It's an astronaut, which is exciting, the object of Nowak's affection is another astronaut, so it's more exciting, and the crime itself is fairly horrible. Of particular interest to the media has been Nowak's wearing of a diaper during her cross-country drive so that she would not have to stop for rest breaks. To most people this sounds a little odd, and sociologically this is a perfect time to think about community norms. Most of us think of Nowak's behavior as bizarre because adults do not wear diapers unless subject to a health problem. Adults certainly don't wear diapers to enable longer drives. So, Nowak's actions violate a common norm. In this case, however, we should remember that Nowak is an astronaut. When you've trained for years to work in space, when you've drilled for hours at a time in a space suit submerged in a tank of water, you get used to various unconventional ways of relieving oneself. For Nowak the diaper wasn't a deviant behavior, it was a common and accepted solution to a routine problem. Those of us from a different community, however, find all this a little strange but for Nowak and her peers it is, at best, slightly eccentric.*

The other issue that's getting a lot of play is the contrast between Nowak, looking crushed in her mugshot, and the sparkling clean images of other astronauts- particularly the origianl Mercury Seven. Hell, if you catch a picture of Nowak prior to this she looks more or less how we expect astronauts to look. Doubtless people will ask what's happened at NASA to permit such a near tragedy to occur.

And in answer I can only point out that the space program was born amid intense geopolitical rivalry and media attention. The original astronauts were brave men, but they were backed up by a nation that had no intention of allowing it's image to be tarnished. Did those early astronauts never do anything we might find shameful? I doubt it- they were people just like the rest of us and, without question, got into all sorts of trouble from time to time. The difference is that they were surrounded, supported, and constrained by a government that was intent on preserving their image. So, to be perfectly honest, if back in the day Gus Grissom had participated in an orgy with three underage girls, the headlines would have read, "Astronaut teaches teens space-stretches." I'm sure it would have been a heartwarming story, too. The simple truth is that much of the glamour has gone out of space travel and today's astronauts are less celebrities and more hard-working professionals. Likewise, the space shuttle is less an advanced sports car and more an aged and much patched pickup. Our astronauts are people who regularly perform a difficult and demanding job for relatively little recognition... but they're still people. It's just that now we all get to see the flaws instead of only being dazzled by their virtues.

I hope Lisa Nowak gets the help she needs, I hope her victim recovers physically and mentally from the assault, I hope that the man being fought over learns from this experience.

And most particularly, I hope that all the other flawed, imperfect, but dedicated, men and women of NASA get the recognition they deserve rather than the tar that now seems likely to be thrown on them.



* In perfect honesty, I have from time to time wished for a cybernetic modification that would allow me to store urine in an internal bag for convenient later disposal. Weird? Probably. Then again, after thinking about it a little, don't you agree it would come in handy?

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

A right to ignorance.

It has become fashionable of late to talk about the "culture wars" and even to refer to oneself as a "culture warrior." This is, of course, fairly absurd since societies have been dealing with conflicts over values and ideas since the beginning of civilization and will continue to do so until civilization transcends to some different level of existence.* Recently, however, I've become aware of what I regard as a new level of crazy in the culture wars. This wrinkle deserves a bit of discussion.

I'm referring to an effort by Colorado State Senator Dave Schultheis to introduce into law what he terms a "Religious Bill of Rights." This is interesting to me in that the actual Bill of Rights, which supercedes Colorado law, specifically protects religious freedom. So what on earth could he be worried about?

Well, as it turns out, he wants to "protect" religious freedom from an increasingly hostile public school system. No shit. You can read the text of the bill here, if you have the patience and a .pdf reader. For those who don't have that kind of time, let's hit the highlights.

First, we have the preamble:

Establishes the "Religious Bill of Rights for Individuals Connected to Public Schools Act" ("act"). Requires the state board of education ("state board") to adopt a religious bill of rights for public school students and parents and a religious bill of rights for public school teachers and employees ("religious bills of rights"). Directs the state board to distribute the religious bills of rights to school district boards of education ("local boards"). Requires each local board to adopt policies and procedures to implement the act, including the annual distribution of the religious bills of rights to students, parents, teachers, and employees of the school district. Directs local boards of education to provide opt-out provisions to individuals for classes or course materials that are in conflict with the individual's religious beliefs.

Makes individual members of local boards personally liable for lawsuits brought under the act if the local board fails to adopt policies and procedures to implement the act or to ensure compliance with the act.


So, already we seem to have a winner. Let's dig a little deeper into the provisions of this bill, however, shall we? The bill indicates that, among other things, students have inalienable rights to do the following:

(I) EXPRESS HIS OR HER RELIGIOUS BELIEFS ON A PUBLIC SCHOOL CAMPUS AND AT A SCHOOL-SPONSORED EVENT TO THE SAME EXTENT AS HE OR SHE MAY EXPRESS PERSONAL SECULAR VIEWPOINTS;


Asking your teacher, "Do you realize you're going to hell?" during biology class: PROTECTED!

(III) EXCHANGE AN ITEM WITH A RELIGIOUS THEME WHEN GREETING CARDS OR OTHER ITEMS ARE EXCHANGED AT A PUBLIC SCHOOL;


Passing around a dismembered chicken foot during Santeria holidays: PROTECTED!

(IV) SING RELIGIOUS SONGS ALONG WITH SECULAR SONGS AS PART OF A SCHOOL-SPONSORED OR CURRICULUM-RELATED PROGRAM;


"Onward Christian Soldiers" in place of "The Star Spangled Banner:" PROTECTED!

(V) USE A RELIGIOUS GREETING;


I'm not entirely sure what the hell this means, unless there are a lot of public school students with a hankering to refer to each other as "Brother Tom" and "Sister Isabelle." In any case: PROTECTED!

(VI) WEAR RELIGIOUS GARB ON A PUBLIC SCHOOL CAMPUS, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO CLOTHING WITH A RELIGIOUS MESSAGE;


"God hates fags" shirts: PROTECTED!

And then, of course, there are a whole lot of provisions indicating that a student can write about, or give an oral presentation on, a whole lot of subjects while using religious material so long as it "fits the educational objective of the lesson." So, in a speech class feel free to proselytize.

What's most interesting however, are the following:

Teachers have the right,

(VII) NOT BE REQUIRED TO TEACH A TOPIC THAT VIOLATES HIS OR HER RELIGIOUS BELIEFS AND NOT BE DISCIPLINED FOR REFUSING TO TEACH THE TOPIC;


And school boards must provbide a way for...

(a) A HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT TO OPT OUT OF ANY CLASS OR THE USE OF SPECIFIC COURSE MATERIAL THAT IS INCONSISTENT WITH HIS OR HER RELIGIOUS BELIEFS; OR

(b) A PARENT OR GUARDIAN OF AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, MIDDLE SCHOOL, OR JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT TO EXCUSE HIS OR HER CHILD FROM ANY CLASS OR THE USE OF SPECIFIC COURSE MATERIAL THAT IS INCONSISTENT WITH THE PARENT'S RELIGIOUS BELIEFS.


And if that isn't enough, in addition to yearly providing students and parents with copies of the religious bill of rights:

(3) IF A LOCAL BOARD OF EDUCATION IS AWARE OF A CLASS OR SPECIFIC COURSE MATERIAL THAT ROUTINELY ENCOUNTERS STRONG RESISTANCE BY EITHER STUDENTS OR PARENTS OR GUARDIANS BECAUSE OF CONFLICTS WITH RELIGIOUS BELIEFS, THE LOCAL BOARD OF EDUCATION SHALL DIRECT THE PUBLIC SCHOOL ADMINISTRATION TO NOTIFY PARENTS OR GUARDIANS AND STUDENTS OF THEIR ABILITY TO OPT OUT OF SUCH CLASSES OR SPECIFIC COURSE MATERIALS PURSUANT TO SUBSECTION (2) OF THIS SECTION PRIOR TO THE FIRST DAY OF SUCH CLASS.


So, whenever a class is coming up that is deemed likely to cause religious conflict, the school must specifically point out to parents that their child doesn't have to take it. I pity schools that have adherents from a wide variety of religions because they're never going to be able to teach a class that won't run the risk of offending someone.

Now, I don't have a problem with folks learning about religion in school. So long as it isn't forced, so long as it isn't that religion is encouraged, so long as one religion isn't elevated over another we're okay. I do, however, have a problem with enabling the religious intimidation of students in schools. I have an issue with legally protecting the right of students to harass and attempt to convert their peers- who are simply trying to gain an education as mandated by law. I also have an issue with what amounts to a right to be ignorant. This bill gives students the right to close their minds to whatever they choose or, realistically, for their parents to close their minds for them.** That I have a problem with. This country is saturated with religious messages- they're on our currency, in every speech given by a public official, stretched out on banners during disasters, and held up on placards. There are magnets lionizing jesus, bumperstickers, lapel pins, jewelry and door-to-door proslytizers. It is impossible to live in this society and not be confronted by religious messages on an essentially daily basis. Hell, for that matter, it's not exactly unknown for religion to be a pretty major part of public school teaching itself:

Before David Paszkiewicz got to teach his accelerated 11th-grade history class about the United States Constitution this fall, he was accused of violating it.

Shortly after school began in September, the teacher told his sixth-period students at Kearny High School that evolution and the Big Bang were not scientific, that dinosaurs were aboard Noah's ark, and that only Christians had a place in heaven, according to audio recordings made by a student whose family is now considering a lawsuit claiming Mr. Paszkiewicz broke the church-state boundary.

“If you reject his gift of salvation, then you know where you belong,” Mr. Paszkiewicz was recorded saying of Jesus. “He did everything in his power to make sure that you could go to heaven, so much so that he took your sins on his own body, suffered your pains for you, and he's saying, `Please, accept me, believe.' If you reject that, you belong in hell.”


Yes. Obviously, the public schools are inimical to religion.

With all that, with our citizens effectively stewing in religion, passing a bill to give people the legal right to simply refuse to hear science because they believe it conflicts a priori with their religious views is amazingly self-absorbed and small minded. It's also dangerous: when a democracy legally enshrines a right to be ignorant, we are in for a rough ride.

Learning is about growing, it's about confronting new ideas and new ways of seeing the world. There's no requirement that you necessarily accept these new ideas, but by at least grappling with them you become more able to deal with a complex world. All this bill does is protect the right of the people to be intellectual cripples who are incapable of thinking and reasoning.

God bless America.


* Specifically, given my views of humanity, this more or less means, "When we destroy ourselves through sheer stupidity and are replaced by a race of telepathic cockroaches."

** Come to think of it, given how adolescents respond to parental control, this provision may be the biggest boon to science in the U.S. since Sputnik.

As a side note: I find it ironic that the people who push the rights of students to not learn about science are likely the very same people who want to deny immigrants the ability to learn anything in their native language. Evidently our own domestic religions are too fragile to withstand scrutiny, but foreigners are so smart that they can learn math in a language they don't even speak. The insanity simply boggles my mind.

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