I spy… with my little eye…

Guess what I saw today while out and about?

I saw the first of these billboards. It made me happy for most of the day.

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Posted by on November 10, 2011 in atheism



A quick question…

Do you suppose that anyone who’s down on FDR’s New Deal went through the Great Depression? Roosevelt wasn’t perfect, being human and reality-based, but he put a lot of people to work. It cost a lot of money, but it made it possible for people to survive.

So, is there anyone who went through the Great Depression who thinks that the New Deal was a bad idea?

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Posted by on August 27, 2011 in politics, social justice




Two researchers at the University of Arizona are taking different approaches to the problem of mosquitoes and the diseases they carry. Malaria, for example, kills 2 million people every year.

Dr. Michael Riehle has developed a strain of mosquitoes with decreased lifespans. In wild mosquitoes, the disease-carrying parasites find their way into the mosquito’s gut by way of one blood meal; they develop in the gut and make their way back to the mosquito’s mouth to be injected into the source of the next blood meal. The parasites require a certain amount of time to develop. If the mosquito’s lifespan is decreased sufficiently, the mosquito will die before the parasite has a chance to develop fully.

Dr. Roger L. Miesfeld has found a way to chemically block the female mosquito’s ability to digest its food. In his research, he has found that soon after taking in a blood meal she could not digest, the mosquito died. This research could lead to mosquito-specific pesticides as well as decreased mosquito populations.


Note: There were supposed to be links to stories about Drs. Riehle and Miesfeld elsenet, but WordPress is not allowing me to add links by methods I’ve used successfully in previous posts. I will try to add them later. Links added.

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Posted by on August 25, 2011 in Uncategorized


Woo and Nonsense in College

ABC’s Nightline Primetime ran a series this summer called Beyond Belief, which explored various supernatural and pseudoscientific phenomena. It was surprisingly, though not completely, skeptical. I doubt anyone in the audience found it persuasive.

Anyway, the show got me to thinking about a class I took in college back when dirt was young, Paranormal Anthropology. Looking back, I’m not sure whether to consider it a complete waste of time. It did help me reinforce those parts of my mind responsible for keeping my brain from falling out. So to speak.

Class periods were divided between lectures from the teacher (not a Ph.D.) and guest lecturers who were no doubt thrilled to get an opportunity to promote their various brands of woo (astrology, numerology, etc.) to a bunch of college students taking what was widely known to be a Mickey.

The numerologist had the students write our dates of birth on pieces of paper and turn them in. One by one she opened the pieces of paper, read the DOB aloud, and speak with the person about some vague event or some vague relative. It’s always difficult with so many people in the room. When she read my DOB, she interrupted herself and went on a tangent about something or other. When she finished her non sequitur, she read my DOB again, and then stated that she’d already done it and moved on to the next person. At the time, I was disappointed and a little miffed.

After class, I approached the numerologist and told her that (contrary to her claims in class) she skipped over me. She told me that the message was too personal to share in front of the class. She gave me her card and told me to call that night, which I did.

She told me that she’d received a message from a relative, deceased, female, with a short name, she’s seeing four letters, Anne, maybe, or Anna. I don’t have any Annes or Annas in my family tree that I know of. I get out my family photo albums and search them for female relatives, deceased with a short name. I have a great great aunt (I think) named Emma. (I noticed, but didn’t mention, that I was doing all the work.) That’s it! Emma’s trying to send me a very important and personal message that could not be shared with the class.

Great Great Aunt Emma is worried about me because I’m so stressed out and I need to relax.

Sometime after the incident with the numerologist, one of the students complained to the teacher that none of the guest lecturers was a skeptic. The teacher decided to remedy the situation by bringing in someone he thought would bring in some balance, a skeptical voice: a fundamentalist Christian of the born-again variety. This “skeptic” told the class that anyone who wasn’t born again in Christ was going to hell. When asked about the Jewish student in the class, the fundie said that as long as remained Jewish he was not born again in Christ and, therefore, hell.

That is not skepticism. That’s just a different superstition, but it’s loaded with naked bigotry. It isn’t enough just to disagree or claim that your superstition is better than all those other superstitions. Skepticism requires more.

The teacher was surprised by the response to the fundie. He seemed dismayed and a bit confused. None of the other guest lecturers received anything like hostility from the class, but then, none of the other guest lecturers condemned the better part of the class to hell.

Some years later, the teacher of this class was involved in a sort of controversy. He had given a student a C, and the student thought he deserved a better grade. Paranormal Anthropology, as I’ve mentioned, was not a difficult course. With little effort, students in that class should be able to get a solid B. To get a C requires a different sort of effort. But the student in question came from money, and the teacher was not a Ph.D. and consequently did not have tenure. When the teacher refused to change the grade and the University changed it anyway, he resigned.

I don’t think anyone teaches Paranormal Anthropology anymore, although there may be a woo-centric class or two in the Psychology department these days. These kinds of classes could be good classes, if they provided students with the tools to see what psychics and astrologers and numerologists and their friends do and how not to be taken in by it. And it would be nice if those tools were provided deliberately.

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Posted by on August 24, 2011 in Uncategorized


That’s Not a Library

At HuffPo, Karl Giberson, in attempting to “answer” a question posed by, among others, Jerry Coyne at WEIT, suggests that the Bible ought not be considered a single book:

The Bible is not a book. It is a library — dozens of very different books bound together.

Dozens of books bound together in a single volume is not a library–it’s an anthology. A library with only 66 books in it is a weak example of a library. Any one of the seven bookcases in my house has more books on only half its shelves, and my collection is a weak example of a library.

Giberson continues:

The assumption that identifying one part as fiction undermines the factual character of another part is ludicrous.

But this assumption is not made by Coyne, and the attempt to attribute it to him is disingenuous at best. Giberson quotes Coyne as saying: “…if the Bible is not to be read as a literal account of the truth, then how do we know which parts really are true, and which parts are fiction or metaphor? Nobody has ever found a convincing way to winnow the true from the metaphorical, and so it becomes an exercise in cherry-picking.” Coyne’s problem is with the lack of a reliable means of determining which parts of the Bible are to be interpreted literally and which metaphorically.

Giberson’s answer to this is:

Acknowledging that the Bible is a library doesn’t do all the hard work for us, of course. But recognizing this at least lets us avoid the so-called slippery slope where a non-literal approach in one place somehow compromises a literal approach in another.

Treating the Bible as a “library” not only “doesn’t do all the hard work for us,” it does none of the work. Moreover, at no point did Coyne suggest that either the whole thing must be either literally true or it must all be metaphor (although he did say that he “almost prefer[s] the fundamentalist literalists,” but that preference does not imply agreement). So Giberson’s answer is an “answer” only in the sense that he wrote something after the quote from Coyne, but if words have meaning, then he’s answering a question that he only imagined someone asked and is hoping you won’t notice that he’s talking to himself.

The problem with his Harry Potter-Abraham Lincoln nonsense is that we have reliable, independent means of knowing that Potter is fiction and Lincoln is historical. There is nothing in any biography of Lincoln that I know of that even hints the 16th U.S. President studied at Hogwarts and served as Prefect of Ravenclaw. The cheap attempt to depict Coyne as evolutionary science’s version of Bill O’Reilly should be beneath anyone with a Ph.D. “You don’t have a reliable means of determining history from fiction in the Bible,” a statement with which Giberson essentiallyagrees, is a far cry from “The tide goes in, the tide goes out, you can’t explain that!” (Giberson: “Well, if all these books about Harry Potter are fictional, then how do I know these other books about Abraham Lincoln are factual? How can Lincoln be real if Potter is not?” And then “Aha! I have got you! So much for your library.”)

Giberson also uses the old trick of accusing people whose interpretation of the Bible finds it lacking (coherence, logic, reason, morality) of not properly understanding it. The Bible is not to be read the way other books are read, because it has to be interpreted through a large number of filters. Because obviously, no one who disagrees with the Bible could possibly understand it.

The story of Adam and Eve originated as a Hebrew oral tradition, which is a long ways from an English prose translation. And there are more complex filters related to culture, author intent, literary form, historical setting, anticipated audience and so on.

And not one of those filters makes the Bible true, literally or metaphorically.

I’m beginning to think that I may have been generous in describing the Bible as an anthology, as though it has the same level of quality and coherence as an anthology of fantasy stories edited by Neil Gaiman or an anthology of mystery stories edited by P.D. James. Perhaps it’s really just a collection of ancient fan fiction.


Coyne responds to Giberson at WEIT, pointing out that while Giberson will acknowledge that Adam and Eve are not historical, he declines to discuss the implications of such an acknowledgment has for Christianity.

Jason Rosenhouse at Evolutionblog also answers Giberson, discussing, among other things, the unity of scripture.

Eric MacDonald explains that theologians (or the faithful) choose which parts of the Bible are important while “science forces them to make the distinction between what can (at a stretch, perhaps) be literally, and what must be figuratively, understood” and that nothing in theology or in science helps Giberson make his case.

No doubt Giberson or someone else will respond to Coyne, Rosenhouse, or MacDonald, also missing the point, and also trotting out tired arguments as though they’re fresh and new. I have no idea how they find the patience and the stamina to do this on a regular basis.

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Posted by on August 16, 2011 in atheism


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Sweet onions! Get your… sweet… onions?

I’m not sure if the twitpic show up properly, so hopefully it’ll show up properly here:

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Posted by on August 14, 2011 in Uncategorized



You choose from what you’ve got

There’s been a political kerfuffle about the photograph of Michele Bachmann on the cover of Newsweek. Perhaps you’ve heard. There have been complaints of sexism because the photograph seems unflattering. It’s the eyes. And the hed on the cover: “Queen of Rage.”

The Daily beast has a collection of the photographs from the article. I don’t think they were all used (I could be wrong about that), but they show she has a habit of holding her eyelids a little too high. Many of the images look candid and not posed. If the cover is from a candid shot, it may have been the only cover-worthy image of her from those photographs.

The posed photographs do not look much better. In fact, some of them, while possibly more flattering, are more frightening. The photograph with her hands pressed together like she’s about to pray tells me she isn’t interested in representing me or other atheists/unbelievers, even though that is part of the description of the job she supposedly wants. I get that her faith is important to her; my right to my beliefs is important to me. I respect her right to her beliefs, but I doubt that she would return the favor. To me, that’s more frightening than any silly photograph.

I wish I could attribute the photo selection to sexism. I sometimes enjoy arguing about sexism. I just don’t think it applies in this case, at least not to Newsweek. I have seen some sexist comments about Bachmann in internet comments (no, I’m not going to link to them), but those people would have made sexist comments about her regardless of how the photograph looked. And given how she looks in the other photographs, I have to conclude that that’s just how she looks. Newsweek can’t be sexist for showing her the way she looks.

I also don’t buy the argument (if one can call it that) that the same kind of photograph would not have been used if it were a man. I seem to recall some magazine photos of George W. Bush that looked like they played up the blankness in his eyes. I also remember quite a lot of fun was had at the expense of Michael Dukakis, Howard Dean and John Kerry when they ran for President, so it isn’t even all partisan.

After re-reading the text accompanying the photographs, one question I have about this piece is, why the hell aren’t Lutherans pissed off about her? Read the text accompanying photo 4 (the prayer shot):

Raised a Lutheran, Bachmann says she converted to a “living faith” at the age of 16 after attending a prayer meeting with a friend. “All I can say is that, you know, the Holy Spirit knocked on my heart’s door,” Bachmann recalls. “I literally got on my knees with some of my friends and then confessed my sins… I gave my heart to Jesus Christ.”

Is she implying there that Lutheranism is not a “living faith”? If it isn’t, what the hell is it? Is she implying that any faith other than hers is not a “living faith”? What’s the difference between a “living faith” and whatever she thinks her lost Lutheranism is?

My First Amendment Threat Alarms go off when I see or read anything about Michele Bachmann, and that has absolutely fuck-all to do with her eyes.


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