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.

Monday, March 26, 2012

It would be funny if it weren't more optimistic than the theology in question...

So, lame as it may be to post two SMBC comics in a row, this one is interesting to me. Moreover, it's interesting to me for the literal reason, the implied reason, and the unstated but depressing reason. Take a read and we'll go through each.

Okay, ready? So, the literal reason I find this funny is the notion that god, as envisioned by most monotheistic religions, might essentially have made a straight up statistical error. If you look at the means- life spans are getting longer, crime rates are going down, happiness is generally increasing- on the whole, it looks like a pretty good world. Once you start paying attention to the dispersion, however, suddenly things snap into a different kind of focus. It's a useful way of pointing out that the story we tell can in many instances depend on what data we're paying attention to, and if you're not paying attention to all of the relevant data, you're probably missing something.

The implied reason is that frame at the end where the priest deals with the situation by explaining that god works in mysterious ways. He knows the reason for evil now, the holy grail* of theodicy, is simply that while god is all powerful and all knowing he isn't always paying attention to all of that knowledge. I suppose you could claim that this violates the "all knowing" clause, but omniscience doesn't necessarily have to imply omni-awareness, does it? You can know something without necessarily thinking about it, so maybe the answer to the problem of evil is simply that god just isn't paying any attention, or isn't paying enough attention. But, this answer isn't going to be satisfactory to the flock, not least because it's an insanely humbling notion, and so we get that hoary old chestnut about mysterious ways instead.

The unstated but depressing reason I find this funny, however, is that it actually deviates from one of the key elements of Christian theology: the fall. See, the notion is that before Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge, everything was awesome. Afterwards, however, they were cast out of paradise and things generally went to shit. Moreover, a large number of Christian denominations have basically taken the stance that the world is gradually getting worse, and will continue to do so until Jesus returns. There's great in-character discussion of this in Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, but for a modern example just hang out on Conservapedia for a while.** So, in short, this is both funny and sad to me because the very notion that god would resolve the problem of evil by explaining that things are actually getting better is, itself, fantastically heretical.

And that's depressing because in the midst of a presidential primary process that features repeated and aggressive claims to be more Christian than one's rivals, the notion that Christianity asserts that things can't get better is just awful.

* Pun intended.

** Particularly see #2 under Biology in this article.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

You know the old saying...

"A real man can shoot his own physicist":

I don't have anything against physicists, mind you, but it is awfully nice when they realize that expertise in their field does not make them an expert in mine. You know, much the same way you don't ask a brain surgeon to run the Large Hadron Collider.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sounds about right...

So, honestly, this is just too awesome not to remark on:

Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner (D) isn't happy with bills that seek to control women's access to contraception and abortion. She has joined a trend across the nation by introducing a bill that would require men seeking a prescription for erectile dysfunction drugs to see a sex therapist, receive a cardiac stress test and "get a notarized affidavit signed by a sexual partner affirming impotency." Sex therapists would be required to present the option of "celibacy as a viable lifestyle choice.”

"The men in our lives, including members of the General Assembly, generously devote time to fundamental female reproductive issues—the least we can do is return the favor," Senator Turner said. "It is crucial that we take the appropriate steps to shelter vulnerable men from the potential side effects of these drugs.

"When a man makes a crucial decision about his health and his body, he should be fully aware of the alternative options and the lifetime repercussions of that decision," Senator Turner said today. Men will be more easily guided through the process of obtaining treatment for impotence so they can better understand and more effectively address their condition.

I absolutely agree with this- what's good for the goose is good for the gander. Moreover, we should all remember Rush Limbaugh's recent remarks on the subject of contraception:

What does it say about the college coed Susan Fluke [sic], who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex.


Can you imagine if you're her parents how proud of Sandra Fluke you would be? Your daughter goes up to a congressional hearing conducted by the Botox-filled Nancy Pelosi and testifies she's having so much sex she can't afford her own birth control pills and she agrees that Obama should provide them, or the Pope.


So, Ms. Fluke and the rest of you feminazis, here's the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it, and I'll tell you what it is. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.

I think it's clear that the Republicans will agree to make all of those signed affidavits part of the public record. I mean, apparently Limbaugh thinks that if the public is going to pay for his boner, the public has a right to know everything there is about it. So where's the problem?

Contraception is a public good- it prevents disease, prevents unwanted pregnancies and, by extension, prevents abortion. Still, I guess we shouldn't expect too much out of a group of people who object to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child because it would mean we can't indoctrinate our children and then work them to death. No, not kidding:

Ten things you need to know about the substance of the CRC:

Children would have the ability to choose their own religion while parents would only have the authority to give their children advice about religion.

The best interest of the child principle would give the government the ability to override every decision made by every parent if a government worker disagreed with the parent’s decision.

A child’s “right to be heard” would allow him (or her) to seek governmental review of every parental decision with which the child disagreed.

According to existing interpretation, it would be illegal for a nation to spend more on national defense than it does on children’s welfare.

Children would acquire a legally enforceable right to leisure.

Christian schools that refuse to teach “alternative worldviews” and teach that Christianity is the only true religion “fly in the face of article 29″ of the treaty.

Allowing parents to opt their children out of sex education has been held to be out of compliance with the CRC.

Children would have the right to reproductive health information and services, including abortions, without parental knowledge or consent.

Parents would no longer be able to administer reasonable spankings to their children.

A murderer aged 17 years and 11 months and 29 days at the time of his crime could no longer be sentenced to life in prison.

If you are not outraged, perhaps you need to read these 20 points again. [Emphasis original; I omitted the first 10 procedural points as not relevant to my claim here]

Anti-woman, anti-child, anti-freedom of conscience- ladies and gentlemen, I give you the modern Republican Party!

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Friday, March 09, 2012

So here's the thing...

I'm a major sci-fi geek and have a fondness for older stuff. This means that I am inevitably excited by the notion of a movie version of Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter books:

You know what I'm talking about: John Carter of Earth is magically transported to Mars Barsoom where he proceeds to kick ass and take names because he's from a world with higher gravity and is, therefore, super strong on Mars Barsoom.* It's classic stuff and is really perfect for a summer blockbuster because it was pulp adventure to begin with and therefore already includes gobs of fight scenes and whatnot.

But, sadly, I'm enough of a geek to want to make a couple of quick observations based on the trailers I'm seeing:

(1) Lower gravity, especially on the scale they seem to be implying, would potentially mean lower atmospheric pressure. So, unless the atmosphere of Mars Barsoom has a much higher concentration of oxygen, John Carter would be having some problems.** It's not out of the question that the atmospheric pressure could be pretty high- Titan, for example, is less massive than the Earth but appears to have a higher surface pressure- but given that Mars Barsoom is pretty Earthlike in other ways (including in terms of how much solar energy it's receiving) I'm still curious.

(2) Lower gravity means a reduction in weight but not in mass. This reduces the energy requirements to move objects in that you don't have to fight another vector of acceleration (i.e. gravity) but a bigass piece of rock in free fall is still hard to move even if you're not fighting gravity.

(3) Rephrasing point (2) above, lower gravity does not mean reduced inertia. Once you get that bigass piece of rock moving, it's gonna be difficult to stop it again. Just, you know, be sure to plan ahead.

(4) With less gravity your feet also have less friction, which in turn makes it more difficult to walk or, less prosaically, swing giant boulders around with an attached chain. Maybe try wearing some big, rubber-tread shoes? Maybe cleats? Ah, you'll think of something.

(5) We all knew the depiction of Dejah Thoris was gonna be tricky, but it just amuses me that for once a female character in a summer action flick will almost certainly be wearing clothing MORE OFTEN in the movie than in the book.

* Maybe also because he was a white dude and, let's face it, when the author was writing it was pretty much assumed that white dudes were better than everyone else.

** Yeah, that's a major exaggeration, but anoxia is still no joke.

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