November 30, 2014

About that fake "Shroud of Turin"

The best debunking article about the Shroud of Turin can be found here, courtesy of Jerry Coyne. The article has extensive links that will convince (almost) anyone that the shroud has nothing to do with Jesus.

Archive this link so you can knock down the silly arguments of believers.

November 28, 2014

Malaysia Airlines does it again

Malaysia Airlines is an amazingly incompetent company. You remember them, don't you? Here's a phrase to jog your memery: loser of planes and people. Yup, that company. Well, they've done it again. No, they haven't lost another airliner -- they just said another crazy-dumb thing:
[Malaysia Airlines'] marketing strategy came under fire after the airline tweeted Thursday, "Want to go somewhere, but don't know where?" It removed the tweet Friday, saying it was meant to inspire travelers but "unintentionally caused offence to some."

It was not the first faux pas for the airline since the disasters. In September, it scrapped the title of a competition asking people what activities and destinations are on their "bucket list." A bucket list is a term used by some English-speakers to describe a list of adventures they want to have before they die.
Seriously, what's wrong with these people?

November 27, 2014

Physics is Lord

Wouldn't that make a great atheist T-shirt? It's a response to the stupidest thing Christian gits say: "Jesus is Lord". Oy.


Much better. Any other suggestions for atheist or pro-science T-shirts?

(Speaking of science jewelry, I love the idea of wearing jewelry that mimics the atomic structure of caffeine. Unfortunately, at the moment this link leads to a notice that says "out of stock". But they're around; keep looking. There's dopamine jewelry, too. Fun!)

November 26, 2014

Bruni on an Italian Thanksgiving

Frank Bruni wrote a very funny column today. Go read it. It's about how Italians do Thanksgiving and it sounds exactly like my family.

(Don't mind the O'Connor name. My drunken Irish daddy left before I was three and my Italian mother replaced him with a nice, solid Italian guy. So I'm as Italian as anybody.)

All Italian holidays, not just Thanksgiving, are exactly as Bruni describes them. It's all about too much food and just the right amount of family.

It looks like we're going to be snowed in today but every family member has already arrived safely (to beat the snow). So all is well.

Happy Thanksgiving, crew. Have a great time.

November 25, 2014

The Ferguson fiasco

Seriously, were we expecting a different outcome from the Ferguson grand jury? That was never going to happen and even if it did, Wilson would get off at the conclusion of the trial. Let's face it: our murdered kid wasn't a great candidate for this role. This could never fly.

But the reports about what Wilson said about the altercation are appalling. Courtesy of digby, we get this testimony made by Officer Darren Wilson:

“I go to open the door and I say, hey, come here for a minute to Brown. As I’m opening the door he turns, faces me, looks at me and says, “What the fuck are you going to do about it,” and shuts my door, slammed it shut. I haven’t even got it open enough to get my leg out, it was only a few inches.

I then looked at him and told him to get back and he was just staring at me, almost like to intimidate me or to overpower me. The intense face he had was just not what I had expected from any of this…

And when I grabbed him, the only way I can describe it is I felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan.”

Wilson testified that Brown punched him twice through the patrol car’s door, and he was nervous that a third punch “could be fatal.” After his gun fired twice during the encounter, Brown ran away. Brown did not get on the ground, Wilson recounted, as per his order. Instead, he started to charge back toward Wilson:

“At this point it looked like he was almost bulking up to run through the shots. Like it was making him mad that I’m shooting at him. And the face he had was looking straight through me, like I wasn’t even there, I wasn’t even anything in his way.”
Wilson is clearly a racist, paranoid white guy who is also a coward. I imagine this assessment applies equally to any of the white Ferguson police officers. The whole force should be fired and replaced with normal people.

Nevertheless, I believe this outcome was expected -- by all. This doesn't excuse the appalling way the media and government treated the people of Ferguson. But that, in the long run, will have a positive effect. This issue won't die here. It's only the beginning. Just look at what's happening in NYC and elsewhere too. Trust me, this will result in a modification of police forces everywhere. The time when white officers can abuse people of color is coming to a close.

I truly believe this. It's how all human rights advances are made: through pain and suffering and incredible dedication to the cause. There's never anything pretty about it.

Uh...about those "miracles"

Jerry Coyne has a great post up today about an Irish debate on miracles. There is one lone but very capable atheist on this panel of religious bobbleheads, and he socks it to them. If nothing else, do watch the first video Jerry presents. It's short, only 1.3 minutes. And note the priest's sad face as he listens to the words of Michael Nugent, head of Atheist Ireland. That's my favorite part of the video. Fun!

There are no miracles, kiddies. Nugent makes this clear to his hostile, faith-head co-panelists. Nicely done!

November 22, 2014

Aw, you miss me, doncha?

I've been working on my novel, which is why I haven't been around here lately. But don't worry, I never disappear for long.

It's been such a pleasure to get back to writing fiction. There's nothing like it. It's truly a dance -- and it involves a partner. That's the magic. We hook up with our Muse (which I think of as various subconscious brain regions working in concert, in a way they never do in daily life) and the writing takes off. It is the most exhilarating thing I've ever experienced.

And so it takes precedence over the blog. Adding impetus to the move away from blogging, it seems the American landscape has been permanently fouled by rightwing know-nothings. Reading the news makes me want to vomit. There's no sense blogging about the sort of nonsense that's going on in our country. It's an exercise in futility.

So I guess I'll just keep working on the book for now. See you soonish.

November 17, 2014

Pope says stupid thing(s)

As if to prove that the devil sometimes takes over his body, Pope Francis said something evil.
Pope Francis said Monday that children have the right to grow up with a mother and a father, emphasizing traditional family values as he opened an interreligious conference on the "complementarity" of men and women in marriage.
And who did he say this to? Why, to a gathering of Evil Ones, of course:
[The conference] was organized by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, whose conservative prefect, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, helped lead the opposition to Francis' radical agenda of acceptance at the synod.
This is a reference to the recent synod where Francis' acolytes allegedly tried to encourage the acceptance of gay Catholics and divorced, remarried Catholics. Radical, eh? But to the Evil Ones, this is indeed radical. They want to keep on hating until they reach heaven, which is where they think hateful priests go when they die. Compounding the vacuity of his remarks, Francis said he'd attend a major hate meeting in the US next year. Sounds great, Frankie! Can't wait to hear what you come up with for that crowd. Public burnings of married gays? Could be. Anything to please the Dark One.
"I wish to confirm according to the wishes of the Lord, that in September of 2015, I will go to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families," he told the crowd, which erupted in applause.
The cave-priests always applaud when they hear the word "family". But this word doesn't mean what they think it means. And apparently the pope has no understanding of the term either. Consider what he said about the "right" of children to be raised by both dear old mom and dear old dad. And where do single mothers fit into this picture? Apparently they don't. They must be evil, huh? You gots to have a daddy. You gots to!

This is an ill church. It's sad that Francis got everyone's hopes up, only to dash them. Why is he trying to appease the low-hanging fruit in his organization? It doesn't make sense, given what he's said and done recently. Lord! You don't think the pope has become possessed, do you? Saints preserve us!

November 15, 2014

Ebola, physicians and immunity

Now that we're bringing another physician with Ebola to the US for treatment, the tally of "the cured" is rising. There are now two doctors and three nurses who have survived Ebola in the United States. (I'm not counting the cameraman, since this post is about medical professionals.) Demons willing, the new doctor will also be cured, raising the number of medical staff cured in the US to six.

It is said that these doctors and nurses are now immune to Ebola. No one can truly know, of course. In the fullness of time, we will learn if anyone can be infected with Ebola twice. But so far it hasn't happened in any Ebola outbreak. The cured sure seem to be immune. 

This begs a question. If these three doctors return to Ebola-affected countries in the future, must they wear protective gear? The same goes for the three nurses. Will they be able to help Ebola patients without having to worry about contracting the virus themselves? Have these medical workers become, in effect, Super Medical Staff?

A crazy idea, perhaps. And once you open this door, an even crazier notion comes to mind. Is it possible that some medical professionals will purposely allow themselves to contract Ebola in the US, under controlled conditions in a hospital that can provide effective medical treatment? After all, we seem to be able to cure Ebola as long as the patient is treated soon after becoming infected.

As for the risk, there will always be altruists who are willing to suffer if they believe it will help others. So this is not totally out of the realm of possibility -- though it's doubtful because of liability issues. Still, a legal document signed beforehand could address such concerns. So who knows?

Surely I'm not the first to have these thoughts. But I haven't read anything about doctors with immunity, nor have I seen the issue discussed on TV, so I thought I'd throw it out there. Consider it thrown.

November 14, 2014

Dupes by bots

Have you noticed this? There are lots of duplicate stories at news sites. On the very same page you'll find a story twice, sometimes even three times. Same image, same text.

Obviously these stories are collected by a bot -- an algorithm or rule -- that sends stories to various pages based on internal tags. The problem is that the process is lushly duplicative and no one is in charge of the bots. I doubt any human being reviews these web pages. It's all automated. Gotta keep the costs down, y'know.

The screenshot above is from a HuffPo page. Even side by side, no one noticed.

The sites need to fix this. It makes them look like fools.

Christmas is coming too quickly

I don't know about you, but Xmas seems like a pushy guest this year. It wants to move in right now -- but it's far too soon. Think about it. Thanksgiving is still two weeks away and yet we're already being urged to run to the closest mall and shop our hearts out. It's bizarre. In New York, Rockefeller Center's Xmas tree is already in place and folks have been ice skating there for weeks. But, but, but...wasn't it summer about five minutes ago?

And it snowed here last night. How rude! The trees still have leaves, fer god's sake. Back off, Xmas! But no, it's here and there's nothing we can do about it. They even moved Black Friday up this year so it seems like it's happening all the time. Xmas: it's unstoppable.

As a result, Christmas seems like a rude guest this year. Don't you agree? Or have I turned into one of those bah-humbug guys? Could be. I am getting older, after all.

What this early Xmas rush means, bottom line, is that you'd better pick up a copy of Xmas Carol today. Get going, kids! If you don't start reading right now, Xmas may hurtle past without you even noticing it. So get your very own copy of Xmas Carol and hold on tight. It'll put you in the right frame of mind for Xmas, guaranteed.

All kidding aside, the book is great fun. I promise you'll enjoy it (unless you're a religious nitwit or a raging anti-gay monster, in which case I have to wonder why you're visiting my blog).

Photo credit: J. G. Howes

November 13, 2014

Putin is a huge problem

Moscow is planning to send long-range bombers to patrol the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean amid escalating tensions with the West.
What could happen, right? I'm sure everything will be fine.

November 12, 2014

Words, words, words

The other day I asked myself what was the most meaningful relationship of my life. The answer wasn't another person, it was my relationship with language. Words. I love 'em. Here are a few thoughts about how we use them.

My blue collar friends (I have a lot) say things that I find intriguing. Like "butt naked" instead of "buck naked". They have their own language. When they see me in "dress-up" clothes they always say "hey, you scrub up good!" To them, it's really an achievement to be able to make yourself look like a city feller. I think that's sweet.

Moving along, have you noticed that people no longer say "deteriorate"? Instead, they say deteriate. It's as if the word deteriorates before they can get it out of their mouths.

And now we come to an extremely crucial moment in our discussion of words. Yes, I give you: somersault vs. tumblesauce, the eternal question. Which is right? Maybe some of you have never heard the term tumblesauce. But in NY, especially years ago, it was the word for a somersault. Why? Who the hell knows. I think this use is centered in NYC, but since New Yorkers migrate all over the place, you may have heard it even if you live out west. No one knows where it came from, this tumblesauce word. I think it's simply a kid term, perhaps a silly word invented by parents when playing with their toddlers. Or maybe kids created the word as they laughed and did somersaults. I confess I smile when I hear someone say tumblesauce. It's so darn cute.

Last night I was laughing in bed at the word "smidgeon". It's a word that's intrinsically amusing. Today's dictionaries use the spelling "smidgen" but I don't approve of that. I like the word smidgeon but it also seems silly, which is what makes me smile. What I don't enjoy are people who, when you offer them food or drink, reply "Just a smidge". No matter what the thing is, they only want a smidge. It's an epidemic of cutesy word use and I don't like it. Ah haz spoken.

Yesterday I had so much fun working on my book. I just love words, I can't help it. To think that I get to play with them all day! It's amazing. And they say there's no heaven. Bah. It's all around us. You just have to know where to look.

Okay, that's it. You may return to your normal lives now. A suggestion: for the rest of the day, try to enjoy your use of language. Words are toys that anyone can play with. Play with yours today. Enjoy!

November 11, 2014

What's going on in Putin's Russia?

Vladimir Putin is a monster. He has radically altered the calculus on Russia's interactions with the world. Let us recall that right after his tacky hosting of the Olympics (you remember the bathrooms with too many toilets in them and no dividers, right?), he swooped in and stole Crimea. Then he attacked Ukraine and his hooligans shot down a plane full of Dutch tourists.

So what's Puti doin' now? Here are a few postcards from Russia:
Russia signed a contract Friday to build two more nuclear reactors in Iran to be possibly followed by another six, a move intended to cement closer ties between the two nations.

Russian soccer teams are facing a severe financial squeeze, with the Ukraine conflict and plummeting ruble leaving clubs short of money but with soaring wage bills.

The international news channel CNN says it will halt broadcasting in Russia due to recent changes in media legislation.
Hmmm, doesn't sound good, does it? And let's remember the man has nukes, lotsa nukes. This will not end well. I fully expect Putin to erupt in the coming months and do something incredibly destructive. It's just the way he is: flawed beyond imagination. The man truly is a monster (and the Russian people aren't far behind him in this respect; they just love beating up their gay boys).

Russia is a pig sty, and a dangerous one.

November 10, 2014

Worrying is a waste of time

On Friday I received a letter from my insurance company saying that my doctor will no longer accept my insurance, so I need a new primary immediately. My doctor, in other words, was no longer my doctor. Oy.

I love my doctor. He's a guy who treats me respectfully while really fixing my problems. I think of him as a miracle worker. And he's not a drug pusher. He usually comes up with a non-medication-based solution to my problems. I love that! (As to the "respect" issue, I've had trouble with anti-gay doctors who treat me dismissively. Tattoos are also something that can freak out white doctors and make them think you're a drug-mad biker -- even though you never ask them for a pain killer. Oy again.)

There was also a good chance that I would lose all my doctors, since they're part of the same medical practice that I was being told wouldn't take my insurance. And I'm just about to begin a long period of allergy treatments with one of them. And again, I love this doctor. She fixed my severe breathing problems in two short visits. Another veritable miracle worker -- and now I can't see her either?!

Okay, so that's the background. You'd think I would worry all weekend, what with this prospect blowing in the wind. But I didn't think about it at all. Not even once. My take on life is that you don't worry about anything until you're really, really forced to address the issue. So I had a lovely weekend. Even painted my nails candy apple red. Fun!

This morning, I remembered and called my doc's office. They said further negotiations between the medical practice and my insurance company resolved the issue. I can stay with my doc(s).

There was no need to worry. I find this is usually the case. The moral is this: don't worry until you have to. It's often a waste of time and energy.

November 8, 2014

Oldest photo of human being

Have you seen this photo? I think it's marvelous. The image was photographed in Paris in 1838! How do ya like them apples? I mean, jeebus, that was 180 years ago. And get this: it was taken by Louis Daguerre, yes, as in "daguerreotype". That guy.

Look at the man in the photo (he's at bottom-left in the larger photo; for a better view, see the blown-up inset below). He seems to be getting his shoes shined. I love the lyrical stance of the fellow. The sprightly way he's holding his body tells me he's a sophisticated man-about-town in 1838. It's a bit like having a telescope that allows you to view the past. To me, this is such a striking scene.

Pretty cool, no?

Image: Wikipedia Commons via Mashable

U.S. bishops struggling under Francis' pontificate

Aw, the poor evil things. My headline is taken from an AP article I found at the NY Times today. Apparently, we're supposed to feel sorry for these incredibly disgusting "conservative" cardinals. Wait a minute while I cry for them. Hah. These guys are the church's official hitmen -- or rather, they were in the days of Pope Ratzinger. They engage in their most evil activities under the banner of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, where they mount campaigns against gay people, against gay marriage, against reproductive rights, against female priests, etc. They're not for anything but they're against many things. They are the spawn of Satan -- or rather, they would be if there was such a thing as Satan. 
U.S. Roman Catholic bishops are gathering at a moment of turbulence for them and the American church, as Pope Francis moves toward crafting new policies for carrying out his mission of mercy — a prospect that has conservative Catholics and some bishops in an uproar.
They're not even hiding it under the rug anymore. It's right out there for all to see: they find Francis' "mission of mercy" an abomination. How dare the pope forgive people? How dare he welcome them? Doesn't the pope know that Catholicism is all about guilt, hell and policing people's lives? The nerve of the man, trying to disrupt so many blissful centuries of discrimination. Hmph.
"Many of the U.S. bishops have been disoriented by what this new pope is saying and I don't see them really as embracing the pope's agenda," said John Thavis, a former Rome bureau chief for Catholic News Service.
So now they're openly fighting the pope. And why? Because he wants to welcome everyone into the Catholic tent. Not so fast, say the cardinals. This sacred space is only for people who kneel before our majesty as we decry their disgusting sins.
Cardinal Raymond Burke, the former St. Louis archbishop and leading voice for conservative Catholics, said the church "is like a ship without a rudder" under Francis. Burke made the comments before the pope demoted him from his position as head of the Vatican high court, a move he had anticipated.
What Burke, one of the most evil of the archbishops, means is that the pope's ship doesn't have a hateful rudder. Because hate is all these pious cardinals have ever known. It's the blood of Christ, this freely flowing river of hatred. It sustains them and makes their lives meaningful.

I truly hope the church experiences a schism over issues of hatred and discrimination. Some atheist bloggers dread this prospect because it might make one of the offshoots seem "nice" -- and that might attract more people to the meaningless faith.
But I think it would be marvelous if all the hateful people moved to one side of an impermeable barrier. There, they could spew venom for ages and attract all the hateful "believers" like a magnet. And then the new church could be ignored en masse by Americans, since they would be seen as way behind the curve. American Catholics are in favor of contraception, they're in favor of gay marriage and they're obviously in favor of divorce. Catholics divorce as readily as any other American group and they don't worry about jeebus while taking this step. It's an obvious, necessary step -- so they push their religion aside for the moment and do what they have to do. Catholics are like that: sensible, for the most part.

So yes, let's see more evil church leaders speak up. Let them spew their venom and thereby marginalize themselves for all time. It sounds like the sort of thing I could observe with pleasure: religious idiots effectively blowing up their own church. Get the popcorn, kids! It's gonna be a great show.

Photo credit: AP, found at CBS News

November 5, 2014

See through anything

This could be very cool. Imagine being able to see through any wall. Sure, you'd need a device. But you could see through the wall! I love it.

Here's just one line, to titillate you:
They said "this technology could be used in the cockpit of an airplane to make the floor transparent during landing, enabling the pilot to see the runway in full view."

This and that

The next time someone tells you that nuclear power is "clean energy", say "Oh, that must be why they make dirty bombs from it -- because it's so clean."

You have to admit that Kaci Hickox, the Maine nurse they keep trying to quarantine, is just about the healthiest-looking woman who ever lived. She should do skin commercials.

Here's a question for you: do you answer the phone when Caller ID says it's from "private caller"? I never do. I wouldn't want to violate the caller's privacy by learning who they are. Their secret is safe with me.

I turn subtitles on when I watch movies because the sound is often so bad that I can't figure out what anyone's saying. In the process, I've learned that subtitles are often amusing. For instance, I recently noticed that when a dog barks on-screen, the subtitles say "Woof". And if the dog barks twice, they say "Woof woof". I love that.

I've decided to be successful in everything I do for the rest of my life. It's such a good feeling, knowing that everything will turn out well. Woo-hoo! I'm just saying.

And finally, a word about the baseball season that just ended. No, never mind the play or who won this or that series. The highlight of the baseball season was the wonderful series of signs about Hunter Pence. In SF, the fans adore this guy. So when Mets fans in NY first made a few really silly signs to mock Pence, the SF fans joined in by making even sillier signs about him. I think my favorite is "Hunter Pence would never confuse you're for your". See what I mean? If you'd like to see a slew of these signs, here's a Google images link to them. Fun! (And if you're too lazy to click on links, here's an image of some of the signs:)

And oh yeah, yesterday was Election Day and awful things happened. But never mind.

November 4, 2014

Vatican statement on Brittany Maynard's assisted suicide

C'mon, admit it. We think that Brittany Maynard was a brave woman who did the right thing while trying to help others by speaking out about assisted suicide. She was a good person. There's no doubt about this...well, to normal people, anyway.

So of course the Vatican has to say something off-key about it. It's their way of "chiming in". (Yeah, they don't quite get the chiming-in thing.)
The Vatican's top bioethics official calls "reprehensible" the suicide of an American woman suffering terminal brain cancer who stated she wanted to die with dignity.

Monsignor Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, the head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, told the ANSA news agency on Tuesday that "dignity is something other than putting an end to one's own life. Dignity is a priest raping an innocent child. Dignity is priests going after gay people who never harmed anyone. And dignity is keeping women down while not having the balls to tell them outright they are worth less than men."
The Roman Catholic church is always on the wrong side of important issues. Their atonal pronouncement about Brittany Maynard will clang in people's minds for quite some time. The church is obviously wrong about this and is, as always, trying to tell others how to live their lives -- though priests have no idea what it's like to live a normal life. "Normal" isn't what they do over at the Vatican, and this is why they can't tell right from wrong.

And of course, being the Vatican, they had to end with one of their "love the sinner, hate the sin" pronouncements:
Carrasco de Paula said "Brittany Maynard's act is in itself reprehensible, but what happened in the consciousness we do not know."

He cautioned that he was not judging individuals "but the gesture in and of itself should be condemned."
Uh-huh. The Vatican: always out of it, always wrong. But then, I guess you can't come down too hard on them. After all, there never was a Jesus Christ, so there is nothing at the heart of their religion. It's all smoke. And smoke doesn't help you much when you're trying to discern right from wrong.

But those of us outside the Jesus bubble can tell. I wonder if there's a moral somewhere in this?

November 3, 2014

Aurora over Norway

This image is why you need to visit NASA's Photo of the Day site every single day. Click to see a huge version of the photo.

And if you do click on it, you'll be able to see the happy guy standing on top of the mountain. Killer pic.

November 2, 2014

The nicest time change brings extra sleep

Have you heard? We're not saving daylight anymore. So if you see any, throw it out. It's just garbage now.

I'm pretty happy about this. I love when it gets dark before 5 pm. It makes the night seem expansive and exciting. Why, anything could happen at night. You know that's not true of the daytime. Daytime: bor-ing. Nighttime: fascinating.

So I approve of the time change. And this year, it's working to my advantage. I slipped into a late schedule by watching the baseball playoff games. Why they have to start at 8 pm, I don't know. But it made me go to sleep late and it's hard to get back on a normal sleep schedule.

But now that we're throwing daylight out, I'm already waking up at a reasonable hour. So I'm happy as a clam. How did it go for you? Longing for summer? Tch, tch, tch. But don't worry. It'll come back, and when it does, it'll be baseball season again!