June 24, 2013

Here today, gone tomorrow

It's time to write my next book, "The Worlds". As a consequence, I won't be blogging very much in the coming months. Sorry about that.

Consider this post an open thread. If there's anything you've been dying to tell me, here's your chance. And if any "Xmas Carol" readers happen by, I hope you'll let us know what you thought of the book.

If you do leave a comment, I'll be aware of it. It's not like I'm going to Mars. And my email address isn't a secret. Reach out and touch me. I won't bite.

See you later.

June 23, 2013

PZ, defending Hitchens, tells it like it is

An atheist apologist (a contradiction in terms, but the fellow doesn't know this) wrote dismissively about Christopher Hitchens. Apparently Hitchens didn't bow down sufficiently to religious nitwits. PZ dismisses the apologist with dispatch in a blog post today, and adds the following gem. He's speaking about religious apologists here:
It’s a red herring: when we ask for evidence of a god, the apologists point to a whole bunch of people wrangling at daunting length about the interpretation of holy writ and say, “See? There. They couldn’t possibly be arguing about nothing at all, now could they?” I wish this would sink in, that someone making an intricate paean to the ineffability of nothing is not evidence of anything other than the human brain’s immense capacity for masturbatory self-reference.
Hear, hear.

PS: Republished because I got my signals crossed. I thought I found this on Jerry Coyne's blog, but it was PZ's. Duh.

Way too much light

So the longest day of the year was followed by the biggest, brightest moon of the year. That's just grandstanding, if you ask me. It's rude and unseemly.

But I'm happy to note that we are now moving in a more sophisticated direction, toward early darkness. Each day will be shorter than the one that precedes it.

Can you feel the glamour rushing back? It's subtle at this point but if you're very quiet at twilight, you can sense the promise of increasing comfort as night falls.

Take a deep breath. Summer will soon be over. And before you know it, it will be Xmas. Now, if you only had a good book to go with that. Oh, I know!

How they get here

People usually arrive at a blog via Google. They pump in their search terms, cross their fingers and hope.

Blogger stats tell me the top three search terms that landed people here this week were:
  1. Why are religious people so mean?
  2. Is religion a scheme?
  3. He who shall so shall he who
I love the first two. The third is a Jerry Lewis quote, of all things. Well, however readers get here, I hope they stick around.

June 22, 2013

Mixed-sex marriage an affront to dog

Women are full of salad.
Men are full of beef.
And that is the root of the problem.

You can't mix salad and beef, beef and salad. It goes against dog's plan for humanity. It's just wrong.

This is why an immediate ban must be placed on mixed-sex marriages. Dog never intended that we engage in such a sinful practice. He thought surely we'd know not to mix salad and beef.

Alas, people have strayed from dog's message. They've lost their way in this age of celebrities and drones and high fructose corn syrup. The message is this: Come home to dog. You know dog will always love you, completely and unconditionally -- even if you're a complete boob. So don't piss him off by marrying someone of the opposite gender.

It's just sick, and you know it. Arf!

Irrationality, ghosts and gods

Thousands of workers at a garment factory in Bangladesh stopped working and rioted earlier this week, demanding that a ghost be removed from their building. The problem began when a female worker said she felt sick and attributed her condition to "an attack by a ghost" inside a toilet in the women's washroom.
According to news reports, more than 3,000 frightened workers at a plant in the city of Gazipur protested, with dozens of them vandalizing the factory before police used tear gas to quell the riot. 
Whereas American ghosts aren't typically thought of as spending a lot of time in the bathroom, in the Middle East and Asia, the idea of a ghost or spirit haunting a toilet is not uncommon. For example, genies and other spirits are said to dwell in many places, including toilets and sewers, and Japanese folklore tells of Hanako-san, a spirit that resides in women's bathrooms.
So, does belief in gods have something to do with all this irrationality? Why, yes it does!
The belief in ghosts is widespread among the largely Muslim Bangladeshi population, and it is not uncommon for accidents and illnesses to be blamed on evil spirits.
There are no gods, there are no ghosts. But there are a lot of ignorant people. Funny thing, though. If you just wipe the idea of gods out of your minds, all the demons, ghosts and witches disappear too. Imagine that! I wonder if there's a connection. Nah.

June 21, 2013

The phrase "straight and narrow"

Surely, you've heard the expression. People say things like "Stick to the straight and narrow, and you'll be safe!" I wondered where the phrase came from and ferreted around on the internet to learn the answer. It comes from the bible. (Horrors!) The following appears in the King James version:
Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:

Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
Kinda kills the urge to use the phrase. But it's always good to know where a phrase comes from -- if only to avoid it in future. While we're at it, I guess it should be spelled "strait" rather than "straight". It refers to a strait, a relatively short waterway that connects two bodies of water.

Come to think of it, "Strait is the Gate", the book by Andre Gide, is spelled that way. I loved this book when I was a teenager. Anyway, phrase origin solved. We can put it up on the shelf now and let it get dusty.

Hanford radiation leaking into soil and water

There's a huge problem at the Hanford Nuclear Reserve in Washington state -- and there is no solution in sight. It's the United States' version of Fukushima but until now, the media hasn't been reporting on it. They seem to think that saying anything about the abysmal status of nuclear sites in the U.S. would infringe on the industry's "rights", or something. But it's gotten so bad, even Sarah Palin's lamestream media is covering it today. (Mind you, they still play it down. It's much worse than this story indicates.)
At the height of World War II, the federal government created Hanford in the remote sagebrush of eastern Washington as part of a hush-hush project to build the atomic bomb. The site ultimately produced plutonium for the world's first atomic blast and for one of two atomic bombs dropped on Japan, and it continued production through the Cold War. 

Today, it is the nation's most contaminated nuclear site, with cleanup expected to last decades. The effort — with a price tag of about $2 billion annually — has cost taxpayers $40 billion to date and is estimated will cost $115 billion more. 
The government tries to hide these problems from us. Too much money involved. Here's how a watchdog sees the current situation:
"This is really, really bad. They are going to pollute the ground and the groundwater with some of the nastiest stuff, and they don't have a solution for it," said Tom Carpenter, executive director of Seattle-based Hanford Challenge. "There needs to be a shakeup at Hanford." 
The shakeup needs to involve the entire United States. We have absolutely no frickin' idea what to with all the spent nuclear fuel that's accumulated over the years. No idea at all!

PS: Artichoke Annie is covering this story like white on rice. G'wan over and read her stuff. She's secretly Nuclear Annie. Time for a name change.

Kids and cochlear implants

I'm sure you saw the video of that young boy hearing his parent's voice for the first time. It was on all the newscasts last night. And every talking head that introduced the video seemed to think it was precious.

Personally, I cringe when I see these things. It's way too startling for the kid. How would you feel if suddenly there was an additional dimension to reality? You'd freak, and that's just what these kids do.

Show us how the kid fares after a few months. I'm fine with that. But leave the wildly personal first moments to the parents and doctors and children. I'm downright alarmed when I see these things, and I don't find them "cute" or "precious" at all.

Your experience may differ. Here's a video of a different child having the same experience. Again, I wish it was kept private.

The Sochi Olympics

Russia is not pleased with the artist who created this image. They tried to censor his exhibit. I think the image is perfect.

From the linked article:
"I had hoped that censorship was impossible and illegal," Guelman told NBC News. "The new trend of Russian politics is to divide everyone into groups of 'us' and 'them,' and the small liberal islands are getting even smaller."

June 20, 2013

John Aravosis says "Man of Steel" not about Jesus

Apparently it's just a scam by the marketers to steal money from the pockets of church-goers. They're stretching the Jesus comparison -- a lot.
[T]his is no “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” that bludgeons the viewer with its Christianity. One must squint to see the Jesus between all of the explosions.
I trust John, so I guess it's possible for an atheist to enjoy this movie. And if he's right and the marketing push is a scam aimed at Christians, the pastors who urged their flocks to see this movie are probably feeling quite foolish today.

Recent finding about autistic brains

I'm not linking to the science story on which this post is based -- because you guys never read the science links I litter this web site with. C'mon, admit it: you don't. So here it is in understandable English.

The reason why autistic kids don't respond verbally to, for instance, questions from family members is that their brains are wired differently. We want to respond; they don't. This is because the area of the brain that would respond to a spoken question isn't hooked into the reward center of the brain.

We literally want to respond to people. It's what our brains do. And we do this because there are rewards built in. It gives us pleasure to respond appropriately to a question, to engage in conversation, to join in social activities. That's because our response centers are hooked into the brain's reward center.

For instance, responding appropriately to a police officer's questions about an accident makes us feel that we're good citizens. That's a reward. Autistic people don't have that connection so there is no reward.

I think this can help us to grasp why we see no affect in these children (and adults) when we speak to them. And that's why I'm passing this information along: to help everyone understand the situation and not just walk away and say, "What's wrong with that kid?"

PS: Here's the LA Times version of this story. It's not complex.

Dead pope still quite active

I love the saint stuff. It's my favorite Catholic failing.
Pope John Paul II is speeding along the fast track towards sainthood. The late Pope has reportedly performed a second “extraordinary healing” that Vatican sources say will “amaze the world.”
Wow, just wow!
A commission of theologians has already approved the miracle, a Vatican official confirmed.
That's it, then. Case closed. My personal thanks to the theologians!
The first time John Paul interceded from beyond the grave, he reportedly helped cure a French nun named Sister Marie Simon-Pierre who was suffering from Parkinson’s disease. He was beatified for that miracle in 2011.
Watta guy! And you gotta remember: he's dead! Again: just wow!

June 19, 2013

"Man of Steel" is a religious movie

We've heard hints that the new Superman movie tries to portray Superman as Jesus. At the time, we recoiled in nausea and thought, "Jeepers! It can't be!" Alas, there is proof:
The studio enlisted Christian-focused firm Grace Hill Media to promote "Man of Steel" to faith-based groups by inviting them to early screenings and creating trailers that highlight the film's religious themes. They also enlisted Craig Detweiler, a Pepperdine University professor and author of "Into the Dark: Seeing the Sacred in the Top Films of the 21st Century," to create a Superman-centric sermon outline for pastors titled "Jesus: The Original Superhero." 
The tale of Superman has long been associated with religious allegories. "Man of Steel," which stars British actor Henry Cavill in the titular role, doesn't shy away from that theme, including portraying the character as 33 years old, having him seek counsel at a church in a time of crisis and forming a cross-like pose while floating in space. 

Asexuality is normal, for some

Oops: Re-posted to add link. 

I'm always surprised that people, particularly doctors, have a problem with the idea that there are people who don't have sex and are quite happy. They just don't want to have sex. Period.

I once wrote a post about a shrink I was seeing. (I can't find it at the moment.) This blowhard insisted that I have sex. While I'm celibate rather than asexual (I find it fun to Google "Alex Minsky" images, for instance), I have no interest in engaging in sex. It's been this way since I was 36, at which point I decided sex was too time-consuming and produced little in the way of rewards. I'm 64 now -- and quite happy with my celibacy, thank you.

This article at HuffPo about asexuality reminded me of many unpleasant experiences I had with doctors and shrinks who insisted that there must be something wrong with me if I wasn't sexually active. That is so weird. I find the doctors who profess this opinion to be strange critters. We have to do what you do? Why? (It's kind of like religious people telling atheists we can't be happy without god. Get real; we're happy.)
"We clashed with physicians who thought that what we were doing is dangerous,” he recalled. “They said that we were advocating that it was OK to not be sexual. There was this really strong ethos that sex is a vital part of the human experience and without it, there's something wrong.”

In 2005 Leonard Derogatis, director of the Maryland Center for Sexual Health at Johns Hopkins University, told The New York Times it was hard for him to see asexuals as "normal" human beings. 
That's the wall we celibate and asexual people face: disbelief. I don't get it. We're obviously happy. Ask our friends. Why is it so difficult to accept someone's statement that they're happy without sex? Aren't we the ones who would know if we're unhappy?

But...but...but...how will people get cured?

Note: re-posted to include link. But I couldn't find the original and had to use (shudder) a Fox link. Sorry.
LOURDES, France — Heavy floods in southwest France have forced the closure of the Catholic pilgrimage site in Lourdes and the evacuation of pilgrims from nearby hotels. 

Throughout Tuesday, masses were gradually cancelled. One by one, entrances to the sanctuary were cordoned off. The live video feed of the grotto went down. Then the electricity was cut off, and then phones. 

"A vision of the apocalypse in the Sainte Bernadette Church, where the big movable partition is threatening to fall. The water has risen above the stairs of the choir," read one announcement. 
Oh, the humanity! How will people be cured, how will their legs know to grow back, how will their vision return if they're blocked from this holy site? Those poor pilgrims! And the poor Virgin Mary! Without a way to let the miraculous curing rays out of her hands, she'll experience a backup -- and that can be dangerous to a supernatural being!

Oh, the humanity! Oh, the supernatural beings! Oh, drat!

June 18, 2013

Skip the 2014 Winter Olympics

LGBT Russians are pushing for a boycott of the Winter Olympics, to be held in Sochi in 2014. Given Putin's incredible hostility to gay people, and the draconian anti-gay laws he's passing, the Olympics will not be safe for gay athletes.

I hope this catches on. Certainly I suggest you try to dissuade friends from traveling to Russia to see the games. And no one should watch them on TV. Actually, I hope they're cancelled. I could see the EU forbidding athletes to attend because of the anti-gay threat posed by fearless leader Boris Badenov Vladimir Putin.

And as far as disappointing the athletes, there's a good chance that Putin would steal their medals anyway. So really, why go?

Hat tip to Joe Jervis.

German writer cries out against American surveillance

I wasn't surprised to find a story in SpiegelOnline (Der Spiegel's web publication) titled: "Obama's Soft Totalitarianism: Europe Must Protect Itself from America". Indeed. It's a startling opinion piece and I simply must excerpt a whole bunch of it here. (Bolding is mine):
On Tuesday, the head of the largest and most all-encompassing surveillance system ever invented is coming for a visit. If Barack Obama is our friend, then we really don't need to be terribly worried about our enemies.
German citizens should be able to expect that their government will protect them from spying by foreign governments. But the German interior minister says instead: "We are grateful for the excellent cooperation with US secret services." Friedrich didn't even try to cover up his own incompetence on the surveillance issue. "Everything we know about it, we have learned from the media," he said. The head of the country's domestic intelligence agency, Hans-Georg Maassen, was not any more enlightened. "I didn't know anything about it," he said. And Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger was also apparently in the dark. "These reports are extremely unsettling," she said.

With all due respect: These are the people who are supposed to be protecting our rights? If it wasn't so frightening, it would be absurd.

Friedrich's quote from the weekend was particularly quaint: "I have no reason to doubt that the US respects rights and the law." Yet in a way, he is right. The problem is not the violation of certain laws. Rather, in the US the laws themselves are the problem. The NSA, in fact, didn't even overreach its own authority when it sucked up 97 billion pieces of data in one single 30-day period last March. Rather, it was acting on the orders of the entire US government, including the executive, legislative and judicial branches, the Democrats, the Republicans, the House of Representatives, the Senate and the Supreme Court. They are all in favor. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, merely shrugged her shoulders and said: "It's legal."

What, exactly, is the purpose of the National Security Agency? Security, as its name might suggest? No matter in what system or to what purpose: A monitored human being is not a free human being. And every state that systematically contravenes human rights, even in the alleged service of security, is acting criminally.

Those who believed that drone attacks in Pakistan or the camp at Guantanamo were merely regrettable events at the end of the world should stop to reflect. Those who still believed that the torture at Abu Ghraib or that the waterboarding in CIA prisons had nothing to do with them, are now changing their views. Those who thought that we are on the good side and that it is others who are stomping all over human rights are now opening their eyes. A regime is ruling in the United States today that acts in totalitarian ways when it comes to its claim to total control. Soft totalitarianism is still totalitarianism. 

A simpler approach would be to just force American firms to respect European laws. The European Commission has the ability to do that. The draft for a new data privacy directive has already been presented. It just has to be implemented. Once that happens, American secret services might still be able to walk all over European law, but if US Internet giants like Google, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook want to continue making money off of a half-billion Europeans, then they will have to abide by our laws. Under the new law, companies caught passing on data in ways not permitted are forced to pay fines. You can be sure that these companies would in turn apply pressure to their own government. The proposal envisions setting that fine at 2 percent of a company's worldwide revenues. 

That's a lot of money -- and also a language that America understands. 
Sanctions against America for its criminal surveillance policies and laws? Sounds exactly right to me. (And Dianne Feinstein is an un-American pig. This is nothing new; she has always been a pig.)

Sounds like this won't be something that Obama can sweep under the rug. Good.

Supreme Court abolishes the Fifth Amendment

It's depressing. We have a wingnut "supreme" court that has no idea what it's like to be a normal, non-privileged American. All their friends are rich, so that's the only group they consider in their decisions.

To make a long story short, they decided that if the police take you down to the station house and question you -- without arresting you -- and you "remain silent" in response to questions, your silence can be used against you! Duh. This is the exact opposite of the Miranda rights. I can't imagine a more un-American decision. Do the justices even live in this country?

In light of this appalling decision, I assume that requesting an attorney before being questioned will be a defendant's only "right". But to instantiate this right, the person would have to know enough to claim it -- and that would require an awareness most defendants don't possess. Due to financial circumstances, poor people tend not to be well-educated, so it's absurd to expect them to know what to do in these situations. And most immigrants, particularly recent arrivals, will also be unaware of their rights.

So the police will know these facts while the victim defendant does not. The officers will have the upper hand at all times and will hold off on arresting a suspect, hoping he will "go silent". And then they can do whatever the hell they want to him.

America. Land of opportunity. This is so sad.

Separation of church and state in the European Union

“There is a movement in the European Union that wants total religious neutrality and can’t accept our Christian traditions,” said Archbishop Zvolensky, [the Roman Catholic archbishop of the Slovak capital] bemoaning what he sees as a rising tide of militant secularism at a time when Europe is struggling to forge a common identity. 
There go those "militant" secularists again. What an irritant they must be, huh? So what made Zvolensky so upset?
[T]he National Bank of Slovakia announced that the European Commission, the union’s executive arm, had ordered it to remove halos and crosses from special commemorative euro coins due to be minted this summer. The coins, designed by a local artist, were intended to celebrate the 1,150th anniversary of Christianity’s arrival in Slovak lands...
Ah, I see. The nasty old EU won't let Slovakia plaster government-issued coins with halos and crosses, thus blocking the god-given right of Christians to place their religious symbols wherever the hell they please. Those darned militant secularists! They're always ruining everything.   

Yup, it's the same old story. Christians want to paint the world with crosses and gods and mentions of heaven and grace and sin. But those nasty secularists keep stopping them! To deluded Christians, this is "religious persecution". Horrors!

Christians will never understand that they can't force the world to worship their god. They see their pushing of religious iconography into the public sphere as a god-given right. It's not. It's religious piggery.

Feel free to worship your stupid, nonexistent god, but leave the rest of us alone. That shouldn't be so hard to understand. But to religiously damaged minds, apparently it is.
“I need to voice a serious and disturbing suspicion: that the E.U. is under the control of Satan or Satanism,” said Rafael Rafaj of the Slovak National Party, a far-right nationalist party. 

The view that the European Union serves Satan has become a popular theme for some extreme Christian fundamentalists, who cite the Bible’s Book of Revelation as proof that dissolving national boundaries signals an approaching apocalypse. 

June 17, 2013

Keith update

It seems I'm getting better. (Which obviously means that dog loves me. In fact, it's a miracle! Hallelujah!)

Today I'm breathing normally. I can even take a really deep breath, which is very nice after not being able to for a few days. I think this means I'll soon be well.

And when I get well, you know what'll happen. Tons more blogging, that's what. But for now, you'll have to settle for the slim pickin's I've managed to bang out.

Hang on. I shall return in full force. And praise dog! I suggest we all eat a biscuit tonight in his honor. Hail dog!

Two cute kid things

At this time of year, local newscasters often go to the beach to interview people. And it seems they always try to include little kids in the interviews. They ask the kids stuff like, "Is the water fun?" or "Do you like the sand?"

I've noticed that when this happens, very small children tend to look into the microphone as they respond. I suspect they think the camera, TV and audience are all inside that microphone. Add a couple of years to the kids' age, and they completely ignore the microphone and look at the person who asked the question. Kinda fun.

The second item concerns a young African-American girl who was interviewed during a news segment filmed at a city library. She was perhaps six or seven years old. When the "reporter" asked her why she enjoyed reading, the child responded with a look of wonder on her face.

She said, "When I read, I go into the book!" And her face lit up like she was seeing heaven.

I thought, "By Jove, I think she's got it!"

Jesus is in Phoenix

There's been a new, incredibly stupid Jesus-sighting. I suggest you kneel as you read the following excerpts from a highly ignorable story. Apparently right now, this very second, Jesus is appearing as a stain on a tile floor at the Phoenix airport. Hallelujah!
The smudge — dubbed the "Tile Jesus" of Terminal 3 — is seeing worshipers flocking in their hundreds to catch a glimpse.

"It's definitely Our Lord Jesus Christ," said unemployed dental hygienist Becky Martin, who's visited the site every day for the last two weeks.

"He appears to us from time to time in ordinary places, to remind us He is here with us always, being our spiritual guide," she added to the Phoenix New Times.
Highly uplifting. Truly.

June 16, 2013

I'm skipping the new Superman movie

Superman is Jesus. More precisely, in the new movie, Superman: Man of Steel, we are meant to draw very distinct parallels between Superman and Jesus. Arguably, the movie goes a step further making Superman the modern-day, Americanized Jesus. 
Jeez, it's like when Ridley Scott ruined the latest Alien movie by making it all about jeebus. Christians ruin everything. It's what they do.

What's with these atheists who like church?

First we had Alain de Botton, with his idiotic idea to create an atheist church in Britain. Duh.

And now there's the Sunday Assembly, an atheist church co-founded by a comedian named Sanderson Jones, who seems to be a glossy 2013 version of a hippie. In the article, should you choose to read it, you'll find paragraphs like this:
"We've had discussions with the Church of England as to how we can work together, and one fellow said, 'we'll have to get you in touch with some vicars who don't believe in God.' "
So yeah, the article is minimally fun. But the idea is nonsensical. Atheists don't need anything that seems remotely like a church. We all do quite well without it. In fact, it's one of the great things about being an atheist: you don't have to go to church. It's what makes Sundays fun!

I think it's a terrible idea. You, however, may feel differently. In which case, you can comment here and tell me all about it.

Great Bruni column

Frank Bruni's "The Pope's Gay Panic" is one of the best takedowns of Vatican hypocrisy that I've ever read. Funny, incisive and biting. I don't want to steal his thunder, so I'll just give you the first paragraph:
I HAVE many questions for and about the “gay lobby” in the Vatican, but I’ll start with this: How can you be so spectacularly ineffective? 
Seriously, go read it. You'll thank me.

June 15, 2013

94-year-old scientist, Dick Post, still going strong

This guy is something else. He's like a teenage genius in a 94-year-old body. Here's a bit about him from physorg: 
The 1990s revived the interest in flywheels as storage for solar and other energy systems. Technology had finally caught up with ideas that Post had decades before: in a 1973 article for Scientific American - co-written with his son Stephen - Post envisioned flywheel uses for storing energy and powering cars and homes.

Post has been called the "father of the modern flywheel," a title he dismisses as "too generous." The rapidly spinning devices not only store energy with minimal losses, but they also generate it.

"It's a very old idea, storing energy in the form of rotation in an object," he said, comparing it to a potter's wheel.

Post visualizes underground installations of the graphite fiber-composite flywheels at power plants, and smaller devices for homes and cars. He hopes to test them within a year.

"Energy bills would be essentially zero," he said.
I mean, really. A 94-year-old guy is poised to invent a way to provide free power for everyone, regardless of income. I am truly impressed.

And all you old people who are farting around, doing nothing with your lives should take note. Age is not an excuse to vegetate. I suggest you drink a strong cup of espresso to get started. And then wake up!

Photo credit: Jacqueline McBride/LLNL

I'm a wreck today

This will be my only post today unless the pope says there is no god. For that, I'll come back.

I'm suffering from the Tall Person's Plague. Yup, my back is out and it's really painful. It was almost impossible to sleep last night. I've also got that thing where I can breathe only in short takes. It's too painful to inhale more deeply. (And yes, I told my doctor about this. He shrugged.)

Today is also my nephew's graduation party -- and there isn't a cicada anywhere out there. It's the demons; I'm sure of it. They scared the cicadas back into the ground.

Anyway, see you tomorrow.

June 14, 2013

Odd story about latter-day hippies

SpiegelOnline delivers some unique perspectives. There's a story there today about a group of young people who want to save the rainforest. The interesting thing is how they're going about it: by using sex, nudity and pornography.

The writer focuses not only on the group, which is called "Fuck For Forest", but on a documentary that was made about them. It, too is called "Fuck For Forest".

The group's idea is to make porn, using themselves as models, and sell it. Then they'll take the money they earn, and save the rainforest with it. Offhand, I suspect it will take a lot of sex and porn to reach this lofty goal -- but that's their plan and they're sticking to it.

About the director of the documentary:
The director says two questions primarily interested him: "What price does one have to pay to live in a world without rules?" And: "Are these people freer than the rest of society?"
The view is negative throughout, in the article and apparently in the documentary, but I rather like these people. And I'm not sure whether the disapproval is based on what they're doing, or is simply a rejection of "idealism", which apparently is considered foolish in this day and age.

Anyway, it's an odd read and I thought you might enjoy it. You won't find an article like this in an American publication.

That gay kid who sings

There's a heartwarming video here about Jonathan Allen. Just go watch it.

(When I was 12, I told my mother I was gay and she said, without missing a beat, "Then I'd rather you were dead." So I'm really enthused by this kid who had a similar experience and thrived.)

Be who you are, and never apologize for it.

Media never had sex, apparently

There's a headline at the Daily News today that says:
"NSA leaker once bragged about sex marathons and the joys of 'post-coital Krispy Kremes' ".
Duh. Seriously, is that headline from junior high, or what? Only someone with a pathetic or non-existent sex life could think that's interesting. So here's another thing the media has to do: go out and have some sex (if anyone will have you).

Note: No link because the words only appear on the headline page.

The popeyguy said this

In a short, rather inconsequential AP article at the NYT, we learn what Pope Francis said about gay marriage when he was a mere cardinal in Argentina.
"But if they're granted marriage rights and can adopt, there could be children affected. Every person needs a masculine father and a feminine mother to help them settle their identity." 
So now straight fathers have to be masculine, and straight mothers must be feminine, in order to earn god's approval? There's a ton of nelly straight men out there who are under the impression that they are real, valid fathers. And there's an equal number of tomboy mothers who've given birth and raised their kids up till this very moment. Those poor, blind straight people! Little did they know they're not authentic parents. But the news is out now. The popeyguy's past words tell the tale.

I guess these inadequate parents will be forced to hand in their marriage certificates and hit the road. Kids need butch fathers and fem mothers. Without these key ingredients, the poor children will be confused -- and might even succumb to the temptation of becoming gay themselves. Mercy!

June 13, 2013

Will Christian nitwits come to rule the US?

I used to think the wingnuts who crawled out of the woodwork during the Bush years would disappear at some point. I figured the old white Christian nitwits who led them would die off and the movement would die with them. I no longer believe this.

In the mid-East, they have a system of madrassas, little "schools" within which knowledge can find no purchase. The children merely memorize idiotic Muslim texts, and regurgitate the words. It is their only form of "knowledge". In such a society, there can be no progress.

Here in the United States we have a Christian Taliban version of these madrassas. Here, it is called "home schooling". Like the madrassas on which they are modeled, this is an environment that is completely knowledge-free. The world, science, history, real people -- none of this can make its way into the minds of home-schooled children who are supervised by Christian Taliban parents. Read the bible, regurgitate. Listen to the preacher, regurgitate. Visit Ken Ham's museum, oh squee! And so it goes.

From this sewage pit, a new generation of Christian leaders will emerge. And they will be at least as ignorant as their forebears. In this way, the Christian Taliban reaches into our future, and snatches it away. Fairness and equality will be annihilated in the society that they create: one that merges government and fundamental Christianity.

And jeebus will rule the dungheap for all eternity. Hallelujah!

I found the above image on Rich Gibson's blog. Interesting site.

Stage two for the Boy Scouts

So the Boy Scouts thought they were off the hook. Not so. Today, Caterpillar takes the next logical step.
PEORIA, Ill. — Caterpillar Inc. says it will no longer give money to the Boy Scouts of America because the organization doesn't allow homosexuals to serve as adult leaders. 
Half-done isn't the same as done. Congratulations, Caterpillar. I'll remember this the next time I'm in the market for huge farm machinery.

Pew Research Center's GLBT survey

I haven't seen a comprehensive breakdown of the survey yet, but this line in a short article jumped out at me:
Forty-eight percent [of GLBT respondents] said they had no religious affiliation, compared with 20 percent of the general public. 
Gee, I wonder why.

Why isn't there a Straight Pride month?

The headline above is the title of a terrific LZ Granderson article at CNN. Here's an excerpt:
Just as Stokely Carmichael's "Black is Beautiful" became the rallying cry against racism in the 1960s; just as "I am woman, hear me roar" was the anthem against sexism in the 1970s; "gay pride" is the banner that flies over a people whose dignity continues to be put to a vote in 2013.
And his answer to why there isn't a Straight Pride month is this:
Because Congress has yet to pass a law requiring people to hide the fact they are straight. Because the streets are not filled with children who have been kicked out of their homes for being straight. Because there seems to be a lack of stories in which someone has been beaten, tied to a fence and left to die or shot in the face at point blank range because they were straight.
I've heard bigots ask this question many times. Now they've got their answer. Good to see this on a popular site like CNN.

June 12, 2013

New book description for Xmas Carol

I've decided not to hide the point of Xmas Carol. I never mentioned atheism in the short book description on Amazon. Friends kept telling me it would be a bad idea to bring it up. "Let people read the book and discover it for themselves," was the advice. I went along with this grudgingly, and that's the way things have remained since I published the book.

Until today. Here's a longer description that will appear everywhere except at Amazon. (At Amazon, you only have a small space to describe the book, but it's sold at all online bookstores. So this applies to the other vendors.) Anyway, here it is:
It's time for a different kind of Xmas story. In "Xmas Carol", a cast of atheist characters faces a terror the world has never known.

When Maria Kennedy lost her first child, she had a second daughter with the help of her gay brother's husband. She would do anything to protect this child. But what is a mother to do when something she cannot see, a creature created by science, hungrily reaches for her daughter?

An inclusive cast of gay and straight characters faces this challenge without help from god. Can they win the battle?

In the end, “Xmas Carol” is a tale of redemption that offers a new version of heaven. And this time, it's real.

The story begins on Halloween. And as the calendar moves inexorably toward Xmas, the threat becomes apparent and the tension mounts.

"Xmas Carol" is a brand new take on the horror genre. This season, hop on board. Xmas will never be the same.
Now people will have some idea of what they're getting into when they buy the book. It's only three bucks, kids. Get your copy now. (Non-Kindle versions available here.)

The news plays differently outside US borders

You don't see many American stories that portray Bradley Manning as a hero. But just look outside our borders and it's a different story. Here's an excerpt from an article at Asia Times Online:
Bradley Manning, WikiLeaks' source inside the US Army, has done more to make Americans safer than the Navy SEAL unit that assassinated Osama bin Laden. As his trial proceeds to its foregone conclusion, the greatest threat to the United States is not terrorism but secrecy and the clueless foreign policy that Manning helped expose.
A bit different from what you read in the US, eh? Bradley Manning is a hero, whether Americans realize it or not. And that's truth, so help me dog.

June 11, 2013

Russia is a pig sty

Some reparagraphing ahead. All taken from this article.
MOSCOW — A bill that stigmatizes Russia's gay community and bans the distribution of information about homosexuality to children was overwhelmingly approved by the lower house of parliament Tuesday. 

Before the vote, gay rights activists attempted to hold a "kissing rally" outside the State Duma, located across the street from Red Square in central Moscow, but they were attacked by hundreds of Orthodox Christian activists and members of pro-Kremlin youth groups. The mostly burly young men with closely cropped hair, who are obviously gay closet cases, pelted them with eggs while shouting obscenities and homophobic slurs.  

Earlier Tuesday, dozens of anti-gay activists picketed the Duma. One of them held a poster that read: "Lawmakers, protect the people from perverts!" while others held Orthodox icons and chanted prayers. 

An executive with a government-run television network said in a nationally televised talk show that gays should be prohibited from donating blood, sperm and organs for transplants, while after their death their hearts should be burned or buried. 
Lovely, eh? It's official: Russia is a disgusting country. And notice how the Russian Orthodox church plays into this whole thing. This is a Christian pogrom against gays, assisted by the government.

I have news for them. This sort of thing makes gay people stronger. We have always been a part of every society since the beginning of human civilization. We're not going anywhere, no matter what anyone else wants. 

Always remember: Equality is greater than jeebus.

Weird popeyguy remark

HuffPo says Pope Francis mentioned the existence of a "gay lobby" in the curia:
"Yes, it is difficult. In the curia there are holy people, truly holy people. But there is also a current of corruption, also there is, it is true... they speak of a 'Gay Lobby' and that is true, it is there.. we will have to see what we can do..."
Dog only knows what that means. But I suspect it isn't good news for gays.

Catholic bishops try to kill women

DUBLIN — Ireland's Catholic bishops have urged lawmakers to block a government bill that would permit exceptional abortions to protect the lives of women. 
The bishops "argue that the bill is not necessary to protect women". Indeed. And what will protect them? The bishops? Hardly. There is no other course of action. The choice is stark: terminate the pregnancy, or die.

The bishops choose "die". Every day, in every way, the Catholic church shows its hatred for women.

June 10, 2013

iOS 7 and OS X Mavericks

I watched Apple's keynote presentation at WWDC live today and was wowed. We're getting a totally new OS for our iPhones and iPads (iOS 7) and Macs are getting a new operating system as well. The Mac overhaul is called OS X Mavericks (they need to drop the final s; it doesn't work). And it's a killer. As the various gurus of Apple walked us through the interface, it was like they were talking about a super-computer.

Both OS's are so cool. As a font freak, I love the look of iOS 7. Jony Ive, the re-designer, did a bang-up job. The interface is so simple and understated, just what I like. Plus it does tons more stuff, faster -- and with much less of a drain on memory. The new MacBook Airs they announced have batteries that will last for up to 12 hours! In fact, memory management is greatly improved in both the device and desktop OS's.

In iOS 7, there's a next-generation Siri that knows more stuff, is familiar with Wikipedia and has new voices! Thank dog. I turned Siri's voice off because it was so cartoon-like. They've got a male voice option now, too. And the new Siri will remember stuff. The one we've got at the moment starts fresh each time you call it up. So it doesn't know one damn thing about what you've been doing. The new Siri will change that.

I think one of the best things about iOS 7 is iCloud Keychain. It obliterates 1Password. iCloud Keychain will encrypt your passwords and keep them safely in the cloud. It also suggests complicated passwords when you join a site, so you can use an insane string of odd numbers and letters and it will remember it for you. Say goodbye to keeping track of your passwords. Good stuff.

Plus you can share all sorts of things with friends, easily and simply. We Mac users have been using Airdrop on the desktop and notebook for months, to transfer our files from machine to machine. Well, now it's available in iOS 7. So you can basically pick a few friends on the same Wi-Fi network and drop files on them. Sharing is wildly integrated in iOS 7.

BTW, when the presenter (I forget which one it was; there were a few) showed how easy it is to share files and info, he said something like, "It's so quick and simple. You don't have to, you know, bump into anybody's smartphone or anything." Dig, dig.

There's tons more stuff but I'm running out of steam here. I especially love the changes to the desktop OS. OS X Mavericks integrates Tags in Finder. I love this feature. For PC folks, Finder is what we Mac types use to find files on our computers. Now we'll be able to tag files with a keyword. And that tag automatically becomes a folder in Finder's sidebar. It will be sinfully easy to find things.

(In fact, this is how they did the presentations onscreen at WWDC. They were using tags!)

You can also create and edit Pages and Keynote documents in a browser. This is shocking. And you can do this even if you're on a PC! Right in the browser, you'll be able to retrieve and work with your documents in Pages or Keynote. It will seem as if you're using your home desktop, no matter where you are. Again, very cool.

There were so many improvements to both systems. But as I say, I'm not going to go on and on. I'm sure there are reviews all over the internet. Both OS's will be available in the Fall, BTW. And you can watch the whole keynote here, if you'd like. As a Mac and iPad user, I'm really excited by the new operating systems. I think Apple knocked it out of the park.

Microsoft must be quaking in its boots.

Tell me again why churches are tax-exempt

These days, Roman Catholic churches are hotbeds of political protest. Isn't that supposed to be out of bounds? Doesn't engaging in political activities mean tax exemptions are inappropriate? I mean, I thought the granting of tax-exempt status was all about the separation of church and state. So we're going to get rid of the tax breaks now that the church has violated this pact, right? (Some re-paragraphing ahead.)
Catholic leaders across the region on Sunday railed against the part of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s “women’s equality” package of bills that deals with abortion, calling it a “radical measure” that would expand the number of late-term abortions.

At the end of the homily, the church played Malone’s recording over the sound system.

“The position of the Catholic Church through every age is clear,” Malone said in the recording. “Life is sacred. Our focus is to enhance and promote the life and dignity of all human beings from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death.”
How can they do this? Why doesn't the government clamp down on them and call foul? Oh, right, I forgot. Churches can do no wrong. Because this is America. U!S!A!

A seemingly non-political, female church attendee also seemed to have a problem with this onslaught of political maneuvering during mass:
“There’s little kids in there, and they’re talking about abortion,” Sontag said, calling the homily “totally inappropriate.”
Well, she got the "inappropriate" part right. Jeez.

The United States has lost its bearings

I think the reason why I put up two silly posts today (see below) is that I'm depressed. Seeing yet another hero attacked for divulging information about the United States' unconstitutional activities is depressing.

First Bradley Manning and now Edward Snowden. They're heroes. And if the US survives the next two decades in a form that can still be called a democracy, there will be high schools named after them.

The government's vicious pursuit of whistleblowers is so backward, I don't know what to say. The only people who give us accurate information about what our government is doing are persecuted. There's no other word for their treatment.

And at the same time, we read news like this:
The Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from two American whistleblowers who claim U.S. forces tortured them in Iraq and who want to sue former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Nobama (that's how I think of him, since there's no Obama there -- or at least no person resembling the individual he portrayed himself to be) refuses to go after those who commit the most heinous crimes -- people like Bush and Cheney. But he'll attack with vengeance anyone who steps on his secretive toes. I'm sickened by the state of our country.

Slight misunderstanding

I saw a cut-off headline on the NY Daily News page. It said:
"Wounded woman reveals most terrifying moments face-to-face with Santa..."
I thought, "Now what the hell has Santa Claus done!?" But it was a reference to the mass murderer in Santa Monica. I don't think I'm in prime form today.

Don't touch a thing

Sometimes you can't get a story out of your head. The only thing you can do is curse the media for bringing it to your attention. There are things we were never meant to know.

Such as the fact that your smartphone is covered in feces. Apparently, fecal matter is everywhere. Though it's old news by now, this fact keeps buzzing around in my head. Feces, feces everywhere.

Look at your hands. See those fingers? They’re matted with fecal matter.

That food you just ate? At least 50% fecal matter.

And the screen you're looking at right now? Constructed entirely of fecal matter. 100%!

Take a deep breath. Hold it in. All fecal matter. Every bit of it. Okay, exhale.

It's just the way it is. But I didn't want to know about it. And now I've gone and written a post about it. Damn!

June 9, 2013

Alleged nonsense, allegedly

What is it with newspapers? They can't state a straight fact -- ever. It's always half this and half that.

There's a headline at NY1, New York City's cable news channel, that says: "Funeral to be held for Manhattan girl killed by allegedly reckless driver".

Allegedly? The driver was a 17-year-old boy without a license who, while trying to elude the police, drove onto the sidewalk and crushed a four-year-old girl against a wall and killed her. Allegedly reckless? Why is that word used? Of course he was reckless!

Last night I was watching the local news and heard the announcer say "There are many questions tonight about whether a 911 call was answered promptly". This referred to the same story as above. Someone called 911 and the fire commissioner immediately confirmed that the dispatcher didn't look at her screen, and went on break without notifying anyone. And now there are "questions" about whether the call was handled "promptly"? The little girl lay there dying while the dispatcher went on a break. Only when another dispatcher happened to notice the screen, was an ambulance sent to the scene.

Should that scenario result in a news story stating there are "many questions" about whether the call was handled promptly? Why can't these people just report the news without trying to make everyone sound like they're in the right?

American media is a wasteland. I can't think of anything positive to say about it. And it's the primary reason our country is going down the drain. The fourth estate failed us.

The Vatican's homophobia is based on misogyny

I believe the Roman Catholic church's appalling view of women is the ultimate source of its homophobia. Let's take this step by step.

But first, a backstory. Years ago I watched a documentary about the Irish Magdalene Laundries where unmarried, pregnant women were abused by the Roman Catholic church. I'll cut to the chase. There was a segment where a woman who had been imprisoned there spoke about the abuse the women suffered. She said it was commonplace for priests to hear the confessions of these "fallen women" and then request a blowjob.

I could never put this together in my head. How could someone who calls himself a priest do such a thing? But I think I understand it now.

The Roman Catholic church does not see men and women as equals. The male is "made in the image of Christ" -- the females, not so much. Women exist to "service" men, produce babies, cook and clean. They are not allowed to enjoy sex. As far as the church is concerned, the only sexual activity women may engage in is when they submit joylessly to the sexual whims of their husbands. Now, combine this with the Irish laundy story. Those women got pregnant without marriage. Horrors! That means they didn't have the kind of soulless sex that wives are supposed to have; they had fun. And that means they were damaged goods, unfit, unclean. The priests who abused these women believed they were merely demanding their due, as men, from fallen women. It's sickening, but tell me this doesn't have the ring of truth.

Now let's consider the church's homophobia. I believe it arises directly from the church's split view of humanity, where men are seen as full, valid, "authentic" human beings, while women are mere chattel.

"Of course women can't be priests," these men think. "They're not fully human! They cannot represent Christ, who was, let us recall, a wondrous, lustrous, fully manly man." Oh, how virtuous these men are! And they didn't have to earn their laurels. This manly virtue comes from, uh, being men. From the day of his birth, a man is a member of the chosen sex.

Enter same-sex relationships. Why, they go against god's plan! And why is this true (in the church's eyes)? Because these relationships involve true equality. I alluded to this in a post a few days ago. The church says there can be no "authentic" marriage for a same-sex couple. After all, how could it be a marriage when there is no god-approved inequality? There is no suffering woman; there is no dominant man. Such a thing couldn't possibly be a marriage.

The female must suffer in the process of the sexual act in order for it to be god-approved "authentic" sex. I'm using the Vatican's own terminology here -- and it suddenly makes (sick) sense. This must be how they think.

In a male-male or female-female relationship, no one suffers. They're just a happy couple, having a good time, enjoying sex and living their lives as they see fit. This disturbs the Vatican tremendously. There's just something wrong about that, in their eyes. Where's the suffering? There is none, so the relationship is obviously sinful!

I truly believe this is why the church is so opposed to marriage equality. It's all about the equality.

PS: Remember the nitwit church that put a graphic on its signboard? The one that showed a cross, a larger-than sign (with the larger end pointing toward the cross), and an equals sign. It meant "Christ is greater than marriage equality". Think about this. That truly is their message: there can be no marriage if there is equality. It's a contradiction in terms for the church.

And this whole stinking mess arises "naturally" from their religious-caveman view of women. This also explains why the church can't state clearly the basis of its venomous opposition to gays and gay marriage. As I've said many times on this blog, they just babble when the question is asked. And now we understand why. To explain their opposition adequately, they'd have to admit how the church views women. Such a revelation would bring about the total collapse of Christianity (except in countries where women are literally chattel under the law; in such areas, they'd probably be fine with it).

The Roman Catholic church hates women. That's the whole story, right there.


It seems the cicadas have awakened in all local areas, save one. My nephew tells me they're out at all his friends' houses. As far as I can tell, the only place without cicadas is right here where I live.

You don't suppose this has anything to do with me inviting demons into my home, do you? Is it possible the cicadas fear my demons? Heavens!

June 8, 2013

The history of the gay rights movement

Associated Press just put out a longish article about how the gay rights movement progressed from the fifties until the present day. It's quite good and mentions a few of the heroes of the movement. Naturally, five pages can't tell the entire story -- but I assume other papers will pick it up, and that's a good thing because the article is entirely positive.

Tiny excerpt:
"There are kids coming out in high school now, being accepted by their classmates," he said. "Parents, relatives, friends are seeing the people they love come out. It's very hard to discriminate against someone you love."
It's our time. No one can doubt this.

Running something by you

I wonder if others feel as I do. When a blogger, even one of my favorites, re-posts something from years ago, I don't read it. For me, blogs are about today. I don't want to know about yesterday.

Sometimes I feel guilty for not clicking on these posts. But despite the guilt, I never read people's "greatest hits" or posts that are prefaced by "I always post this at this time of year".

Meh. Gimme today. Anyone else feel like this?

Where is our sibling race?

It's too bad there isn't another intelligent species on Earth. And by "intelligent", I mean a species at least as intelligent as humans.

Imagine what we could learn from them. It would be like the competition between Apple and Microsoft -- something that makes each company better. As long as it doesn't kill or maim, competition can motivate and teach.

But there is no sibling race with which humans can compare themselves. We had a shot with the Neanderthals but they didn't make it. That's probably a terrible setback for our species. We missed out.

Sure we'd wage war with the other species in our primitive years but at some point we'd reach detente -- if we didn't wipe each other out. And perhaps a sharing of values would take place in the period after that. It's possible, anyway. It would work best if the other race was both smarter and less warlike, compared to humans. Sort of a race of super-intelligent bonobos.

Alas, we have only ourselves for reference. There's little possibility of humans ever meeting another intelligent alien race. They're just too far away -- if they're there at all (which I believe they are, and in abundance).

Even if mankind lasts for a few million years, it's doubtful we'd be able to traverse the tremendous distances between Earth and the nearest intelligent aliens. It seems we're not destined to meet these creatures.

Kids with siblings are healthier and more emotionally balanced than children from single-child families. Poor humans, we're living in isolation -- and paying a high price for it. It really is a pity.

June 7, 2013

A chilling state of affairs

It's creepy that I had to enable comment moderation on the blog but I had no choice. It's not because I want to filter your comments and only let through those I approve of. You can say crazy stuff. I'll let it through.

But if I leave comment moderation off, the class of internet low-life that I refer to as the Mad Pasters goes wild. You know them. They're the ones who troll their way through the atheist blogs, pasting irrelevant babble in the comments. Not surprisingly, these comments invariably end with a string of bible verses. And at times, they include links to dangerous web sites. I don't want to waste my readers' time, nor do I want to put them at risk.

As for the letter-identification process, I know it's a pain but without it there would be hundreds of people posting spam and links to phishing websites. Identifying those squiggly letters proves you're not a bot created to spread spam. It's an irritating but worthwhile system.

So comment moderation is turned on. I know this has a chilling effect on others who want to comment. But despite the barriers, you can comment. Give it a shot. If you don't have an internet identity, anonymous works fine. But it's best to sign up somewhere for an identity. I use "writenow", my Google blogger identity, whenever I want to post a comment somewhere. It just makes things simpler.

Anyway, I wanted to explain this to new readers. I do want your comments. I just don't want the chaff -- especially the religious and dangerous chaff. Okay. Over and out.

Image: Wikipedia Commons

So atheists CAN be saved, kinda, sorta?

There was a big brouhaha recently when the pope said seemed to say that atheists can go to heaven. All sorts of reports and stories spewed from the media about this. At the time, HuffPo, among other outlets, reported that the Rev. Thomas Rosica, a Vatican representative, "clarified" the pope's words by stating that atheists cannot be saved.

But that was last week. I just came across a "corrected" story at HuffPo. They now report that Rosica never said this. Apparently what they originally reported was text from a catechism. (Though even in the corrected story, it seems Rosica offered the text. But who's quibbling?) Anyway, here's what they said in the corrected story:
Rosica wrote that it's not impossible for an atheist to eventually be saved by Christ. 

“Rejection of Christianity may not mean the rejection of Christ,” he wrote. "We can never say with ultimate certainty whether a non-Christian who has rejected Christianity...is still following the temporary path mapped out for his own salvation which is leading him to an encounter with God.”
Well, thanks for clearing that up. So my atheist path may lead me to an encounter with god, eh? Of course, there is no god so this meeting will never take place. However, should such an unlikely event come my way, I will punch this supernatural creature right in his gay-hating, woman-stomping, child-killing face. Come to think of it, I'd really enjoy pummelling the monster responsible for all the pain and suffering that living creatures experience.

But for now, I'm quite sure that being a militant anti-god blogger and novelist is the "path mapped out for my salvation". I just define salvation differently. So I'll blog on.

See you later, jeebus.

June 6, 2013

Earth's oceans had life 3.4 BILLION years ago!

"The existence of these microfossils in diverse locations as far back as 3.4 billion years ago suggests that the oceans probably had life in them for a very extended period of time," said Oehler. "Moreover, this has implications beyond what we have done here, suggesting the evolution of diverse life proceeded quickly."
This news is going to shake everything up. Scientists have long supposed that it takes billions of years to produce life. And yet they've found evidence of plankton existing in the oceans 3.4 billion years ago. The Earth is only 4.5 billion years old. Life: it just happens -- and very quickly!

And then there's this idiotic "news", from a completely different story:
(Phys.org) —Early Earth was not very hospitable when it came to jump starting life. In fact, new research shows that life on Earth may have come from out of this world.
This appears under the blaring headline: "Life on Earth Shockingly Comes from Out of This World".

Duh. And where did Earth come from? I'll wait for your answer. (Taps fingers impatiently on desktop...) Earth didn't exist 4.6 billion years ago. Now, think of how it formed. That's right, children. Earth came from outer space! Jeebus.

This looks great

Have you seen the trailer for "Europa Report"? It looks so good! It's been ages since a good American sci-fi movie was released. I can't wait to see it.

The joys of getting old

Oh, sure. People put it down. They want to look young (for some reason). And they're scared to death of, well, death.

But there's a lot to be said for aging. I like it! Here are some of the advantages that accrue to the aged person:
1. You can get away with anything. The worst that happens is someone says, "Ignore him. He's just some crazy old coot." Yay!

2. Most of the people you know are dead. Okay, I can see how some people might see this in a negative light. But the important thing here is that their memories of your most embarrassing moments died along with their bodies. Poof! All gone. It's like you're a new person.

3. Well, okay. I can't think of another positive thing about aging. But I like 1 and 2. Anyone want to append another?

June 5, 2013

Tiny Chinese fossil is earliest primate

"From this almost complete skeleton, we can conclude that our ancestors were a kind of very small animal. It was very active and agile; and it lived in the trees and fed on insects," he told BBC News.


Many people may be taken aback by the animal's small size - a body just 71mm in length and an estimated weight of about 20-30g. But Archicebus gives us a good idea of what the very first primates on Earth would have looked like. 
Go read the whole thing over at BBC News.

Still no cicadas

Every day I listen for cicadas but hear only silence. They're waiting. And what are they waiting for? Outdoor graduation parties, of course!

My nephew just graduated from high school and we're having a garden party for him in less than two weeks. That's what the cicadas are waiting for. They love graduation parties. Just think what fun it will be when they fly into women's hair, and whatnot. And forget music. We'll just have that constant cicada drone in the background. Festive!

It think they're moving north slowly because of the temperature differences in the ground. Three weeks ago, they showed up in New Jersey. And my nephew just got a warning from a fellow graduate in Newburgh, saying "be ready for the cicadas" at this weekend's party. So they're out in that city, which is about 30 miles south of us.

Yup, they're waiting for my nephew's party. Sweet.

Cicada image: Wikipedia Commons

Minority Report for all

(Phys.org) —Forget to turn off the lights before leaving the apartment? No problem. Just raise your hand, finger-swipe the air, and your lights will power down. Want to change the song playing on your music system in the other room? Move your hand to the right and flip through the songs.
The kicker? It does this using only Wi-Fi signals. There is no need for cameras or body sensors -- and you can use hand gestures to control things no matter where you are in your house. It's not like you have to remain in front of your computer to use it. And that means it's even better than the technology in "Minority Report". It almost seems like magic. The video included with the article is a bit boring but it will give you an idea of how it works.

The future's hurtling at us, and it's about time. Gimme!

Truth not allowed at Manning trial

Pfc. Bradley Manning's court-martial over the leak of hundreds of thousands of classified documents has been all about secrecy and security, and his trial has taken on a cloak and dagger feel, too.  
It's also taken on the feel of a clown-car.
Manning supporters wearing "truth" T-shirts had to turn them inside out before entering the courtroom. The shirts were made by the Bradley Manning Support Network in early 2012 as an alternative to "Free Bradley Manning" T-shirts banned from early pretrial hearings, spokesman Nathan Fuller said. 
Apparently realizing how stupid the court looked for taking this action, they allowed supporters to wear the shirts the following day. But truth was definitely banned the first day of the trial. And I suspect "truth", the concept, will never be allowed into the courtroom.

Asked about this snafu, "Army spokeswoman Col. Michelle Roberts said the earlier decision made 'out of a concern for public safety'..." Indeed. The public has to be protected from truth. It might set them free.

The military/government officials even insisted that news reporters sign a statement wherein they promised not to reveal the names of "spokespeople". For two days, they signed it but on the third day, an AP photographer and reporter rebelled and crossed that section out -- and were allowed into the trial. 

Jeebus. Is this Putin's trial against Pussy Riot or is it an American courtroom proceeding against a soldier? It's hard to tell. Admittedly, military courts are not civilian courts. But this style of intense overkill has been part of the government's vendetta against Manning from the outset. And let us recall that the UN "torture chief" called Manning's treatment torture.

This is a trial like no other.

June 4, 2013

Shady "study" produces results opposite to famous Harvard Medical School study

HuffPo (yes, I trolled through there today; someone has to) has a big article about a study that says intercessory prayer is just fabulous. The article has subheads like "Bringing God into the Picture" and "Divine Care". Gee, I wonder if a religious lunatic wrote it.

Here's an excerpt:
Adults who receive such prayer were significantly more likely to be optimistic about the future, Schafer found in his analysis of the study data. Having friends who are not family members pray for them was especially associated with high rates of optimism.
I especially like this:
What makes prayer unique -- the appeal to a transcendent higher power -- also provides a special source of hope to many individuals, twits observers say.

Consider that more than three-quarters of respondents to the 2007 Baylor Religion Survey believe God is concerned with their personal well-being.
Yes, I consider that all the time. It's positively frightening that so many people think fairytales are the "real" reality, and that their personal lives are the focus of a "god". I don't think we need to wonder if this "study" is the work product of religious loons who were predisposed to reach a particular conclusion.

The article caught my eye because it stands in direct opposition to a professional study done by Harvard Medical School on the same topic. That study was titled: "Largest Study of Third-Party Prayer Suggests Such Prayer Not Effective In Reducing Complications Following Heart Surgery". You can read the Harvard Medical School press release here.

One of their findings:
"[I]ntercessory prayer had no effect on recovery from surgery without complications. The study also found that patients who knew they were receiving intercessory prayer fared worse.
Religious people will never face reality. They love to gather "scientists" to produce "studies". But all they're doing is talking to themselves in a dark room. If only we didn't have to hear about it, didn't have to deal with them, we could let it slide. But we do have to deal with them, which is why I keep blogging.

The article at HuffPo was written by David Briggs, by the way. He works for the Association of Religious Data Archives. I guess he couldn't get a real job.

Openly gay bishop speaks

Rev. Dr. Guy Erwin was elected Bishop of the Southwest California Synod of the Evangelical Church in America...He is the first openly gay clergy person elected to serve as one of the 65 synodical bishops in the denomination.
From the Huffpo article, here's a quote from Rev. Erwin:
"I know that many will see my election as a significant milestone for both LGBT people and Native Americans, and I pray that I can be a positive representation for both communities. There was a time when I believed that I would not be able to serve as a pastor in the ELCA. Our church has now recognized the God-given gifts and abilities that LGBT people can bring to the denomination."
It sounds like he will be a capable bishop who fulfills his duties faithfully. Now, that wasn't so hard, was it? Hopefully, other religions are taking note.

Disclaimer: Of course, religious faith of any sort is abject nonsense. But at least a gay man has an equal right to indulge in that nonsense. That's the way it should be. Cheers to Rev. Erwin.

The depressing trial of Bradley Manning

I can hardly read the news about Pfc. Manning's trial. He's the American hero who alerted the world to the illegal acts the United States engaged in while pursuing its extra-legal, pre-emptive wars. They'll name a high school after him one day. But for now, the show goes on.

Julian Assange nailed it:
"This is not justice; never could this be justice," Assange said in a statement Monday. "The verdict was ordained long ago. Its function is not to determine questions such as guilt or innocence, or truth or falsehood. It is a public relations exercise, designed to provide the government with an alibi for posterity." 
It's a sickening charade. One day I hope to be able to write Manning a letter of praise. But for now, the KGB U.S. government won't let anything get through to him. It's another example of torture by Americans. By blocking communication with the outside world, the US is putting blinders on Manning's eyes -- lest he realize that he has a legion of supporters. Their goal is to make him feel very alone.

After the show trial and the inevitable verdict, they'll undoubtedly persecute him for the entire span of his imprisonment, which will probably be a life sentence. He's going to need all our letters of praise just to get through it.

Is conservatism drawn from biology?

Animals can't change their behavior. They do the same thing over and over, which is why it's so easy for humans to trap them.

I wonder if this is where the conservative view of reality comes from. Perhaps evolution left us with an admonition: do not change what works. Could this be why so many people always want to stick with the old? You hear it all the time: "It's always worked for us, so why change?" Maybe that's biology talking.

Of course, that doesn't mean we have to listen.

Evil done in the church's name

NOTE: updated

From this morning's NY Times:
MEXICO CITY — An ill Salvadoran woman who had asked the courts for — and been denied — an abortion during a high-risk pregnancy delivered her 27-week-old fetus by Caesarean section on Monday...

The A.P. reported that Beatriz, who has asked that her last name be withheld to protect her identity, was recovering in the hospital and that her baby daughter was born without a brain. 
Because the country is Roman Catholic, the mother almost died for the sake of a baby that couldn't possibly have a life of its own.

This is Roman Catholicism in a nutshell: the life of a woman is not as important as a baby without a brain. You don't need any further instruction in the Catholic religion.

UPDATE: The baby died five hours later. They risked a woman's life to "save" this mindless creature. Catholics have such a tight handle on morality. One wonders how they do it.

June 3, 2013

Did you see this story?

I don't know why I read this, but I did. Some guy discovered an expensive necklace while hunting pythons in the Everglades. Seems there had been a plane crash in the area, and he figured it might belong to one of the victims. So he's trying to find the rightful owner.

I'm blogging about this because this is how the story ends:
"A perfect situation would be someone saying, 'Here's a picture of so-and-so and they're wearing it,' but you don't always get perfect," Rubinstein said. 

If he never finds the rightful owner, Rubinstein plans to give the pendant to a museum or the Archdiocese of Miami.

"It didn't belong out there. It doesn't necessarily belong to me," Rubinstein said. 
And I'm quite sure it doesn't belong to the Archdiocese of Miami. It's sickening that people automatically think of giving something like this to the Catholic church. Because they don't have enough money? They'll just use it to pay off victims of pedophile priests.