Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Quote of the Day

"I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out then under another Democrat president Jimmy Carter, and I'm not blaming this on President Obama, I just think it's an interesting coincidence."
--Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (R-MN by way of Zordon).


Via Pharyngula.

Steve Waldman on Abortion

One of the smartest takes you'll read:

"Most Americans believe there are gradations of life. Some living things are more alive than others, and so the later in the pregnancy it gets, the more uncomfortable people become with the idea of ending it. But in reality they believe both that a life stirs very early on and that a one-week-old embryo is more "killable" than a nine-month-old fetus. For them, determining whether "life" begins at conception really doesn't determine anything."
Or, as George Carlin said (yeah, I quote him a lot, but I love the guy): "People say life begins at conception? I say life began about a billion years ago, and it's a continuous process."

Which is why the whole debate over stem-cell research is an open-and-shut case in favor of stem cell research: You're working on a collection of cells that are about 150 in number. There are no higher brain or organ functions because those don't even exist. It's never going to feel pain. More to the point, it's a fertilized egg that's a holdover from IVF treatments that is never going to be implanted, and is going to be thrown out if it isn't used for medical research. Jason Rosenhouse:
"The fact is that the embryo goes through a continuum. At conception it is plainly not a human being in any reasonable sense. At birth it is a human being in every sense. In between you have a grey area, as it gradually becomes more and more human-like. Any sharp line you try to draw will inevitably be a bit arbitrary, and doubtless there are difficult moral questions to be answered as we approach plausible line-drawing points. The fact remains that the sort of stem-cell research that is being seriously proposed is unambiguously on the “morally acceptable” side of the line."
Which is why people who oppose stem cell research are completely off base. There is no moral quandry to be had. It's not human, we're not killing babies, we're going to destroy it anyway. The greatest crime is not letting those cells be put to good use in the first place.

Oh, and this isn't in the abstract, either. UPI:
"British scientists say they have developed a stem procedure that will reverse the most common cause of blindness, age-related macular degeneration.

The procedure, pioneered by the Institute of Ophthalmology at University College London and Moorfields eye hospital, involves replacing a layer of degenerated eye cells with new ones obtained from embryonic stem cells, The Sunday Times of London reported."

Bonus reading material: Waldman is also the guy who made Rick Warren look bad in this wonderfully dry-witted post.

Original post via the prominently pro-life Sullivan.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Roger Ebert on Faith

It's no surprise to me that one of my favorite writers in any form can summarize how I feel better than I ever could:

"Did I start calling myself an agnostic or an atheist? No, and I still don't. I avoid that because I don't want to provide a category for people to apply to me. I would not want my convictions reduced to a word."
For myself, I wish there was a better word to describe those of us with no religious convictions (I'm going to avoid snarky comments at the expense of those who have them). Maybe there never will be such a convenient term that defines us in a positive light. "Humanist" is too vague for my taste. "Atheist" defines us on religious terms. "Agnostic" implies indifference. "Rationalist" is both cumbersome and serves as a back-handed insult to those opposed to us. And "skeptical" is another term that conjures a weary, jaded approach to thinking.

But in the end, it's the thinking part that matters. It's realizing that all the arguments one could use for and against religious influence are simplistic and tend to pigeon-hole the recipient of whatever convenient label you slap on them.

Which is not to say that I am ambivalent about the strength of my convictions. As Penn Gillette says, I know there is no god for the same reason I know there is not a fully-grown elephant in my car. When the evidence clearly and conclusively and repeatably contradicts that assertion, I'll admit I was wrong. Not before.

There is another line from Ebert's piece that merits comment:
"If we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, we must regard their beliefs with the same respect that our own deserve."
Let's say I don't think he's wrong, but I believe in the truth of that statement on a different level than he does. I think you should have a right to your opinion, but you should never have a notion that your opinion is privileged or protected from ridicule, or--at the very least--close scruitiny. You want to beat me up over my lack of faith, go right ahead. I'll be right there attacking your bronze-age interpretation of the natural world with equal scorn. You want to engage in a civilized discourse about why I feel how I do and elaborating on your positions, I'll serve the wine and cheese.

In the end, it's the relative merits of the idea itself that deserve or don't deserve respect. Young Earth Creationism deserves none because it openly and dishonestly fly flies in the face of the reams of evidence gathered to contradict it. Period.

I believe there is no god because that is where the evidence of the scientific method leads me. Call that what you want. Atheism will do just fine until something better comes along.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Dan Savage: Weirdest Letter He Ever Received

For those of you not in the loop, Savage is a sex advice columnist. No topic is off limits. If you could use a good laugh (and if you're not at work, it's NSFW), go here:

Friday, April 24, 2009

Torture Timeline

I don't always care for DailyKos, but this is an excellent summary.

Via Sullivan.

Quote of the Day

“You’re not as good as the best thing you’ve ever done in your life; but you’re not as bad as the worst thing either.”
--Mike Creed, professional bicyclist, on the retirement of Tyler Hamilton.

U.S. Soldier: Suicide Over Torture


"Alyssa Peterson was one of the first female soldiers killed in Iraq. A cover-up, naturally, followed.

Peterson, 27, a Flagstaff, Ariz., native, served with C Company, 311th Military Intelligence BN, 101st Airborne. Peterson was an Arabic-speaking interrogator assigned to the prison at our air base in troubled Tal Afar in northwestern Iraq. According to official records, she died on Sept. 15, 2003, from a "non-hostile weapons discharge.""
Read: She killed herself because she had been sent back to take part in torture. And she couldn't take it. And the military lied about it to hide its shameful behavior.

Prosecute, Mr. Holder, Prosecute!

Via Sullivan.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Shep Smith on Torture

Bless this man. It's about time someone from Fox cut through the crap.

Via Sullivan

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Quote of the Day

"It's going to be a lovely weekend—make some porn!"
--Dan Savage

Prosecute Torture Officials

So says a man who trained SEALS in how to resist torture techniques like waterboarding. And he makes a good point:

"This is about more than one tactic, waterboarding, that has gotten the lion's share of attention. As a general rule, interrogations without clearly defined legal limits are brutal. Particularly when they have an imperative to get information out of a captive immediately. Wearing prisoners out to the point of mental breakdown; forcing confessions through sleep deprivation; inflicting pain by standing for days on end (not minutes like in SERE); beating them against flexing walls until concussion; applying humiliation slaps (two at a time), and repeating these methods over and over."
He also makes this point:
"If America wants to win the war against al-Qaeda, we have to start anew. The Obama administration will have to forget about the pressure they are getting from Bush administration officials and Republicans to hide all further releases of torture memos they themselves defended for years.

Then, Alberto Gonzales, Jay Bybee, John Yoo and Steven Bradbury - who, as Bush administration legal officials, have documented their own complicity to explicitly authorize crimes - will have to be calmly prosecuted, based on the evidence, with all the due process rights to which they are entitled. Who knows, they may well be acquitted.

The sooner the better, as al-Qaeda will recruit hundreds if not thousands more young men to fight, kill and gladly die once they absorb the depth of hypocrisy America stooped to over the last eight years.

Either we investigate our past errors and clean up our ship or we "look forward" and give al-Qaeda a singular propaganda victory that will kill Americans for years to come."

Via Ed Brayton.

So you want to be a pro cyclist...

Forward this to the 3:40 mark. You'll see Rabobank-Continental's Theo Bos take down race leader Darryl Impey of Barloworld with a fist full of jersey no less. Like Joe Lindsey says, track sprinters like to play rough, but this is road cycling we're talking about. Impey suffered a broken vertabrae in the crash, among other things, but still won the overall because of the crash occurring within 3 km of the finish line. But still, sheesh...

Via Boulder Report.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Capitol Ride 2009

Iowa cyclists are getting good and tired of being treated like targets by motorists...and with indifference by law enforcement. This is the footage of our Capitol Ride 2009. I think I'm going to renew my membership to the Iowa Bicycle Coalition, too.

Spin easy, friends.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Penn Gillette--Special Encounter

I respect the hell out of Penn & Teller because they take on a lot of mysticism and fraud, so it surprised me to hear Penn talking about not respecting Christians who don't proselytize to non-believers. The guy makes you think. Check it out...

Monday, April 13, 2009

Legalize it!

Andrew Sullivan has been running an ongoing series on The Daily Dish about legalizing marijuana. Essentially, it's an attempt to cut through the lies, hysteria, and self-justification of the authorities by having actual users tell their stories anonymously. The latest entry is from someone with bi-polar disorder who's only able to function when he's had his hits:

"Am I psychologically dependent on pot? Probably. Am I a textbook case of irresponsible self-medication? Almost certainly. But can someone please tell me what the harm is?"
As the late comedian Bill Hicks put it on broader grounds (and I'm paraphrasing), it's nobody's business what I do so long as I do not harm another human being.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Quote of the Day

"(T)here's no Hell mentioned in the Old Testament....It's only with "Gentle Jesus Meek and Mild" that the idea of eternal torture for minor transgressions is introduced."
--Christopher Hitchens, pwning an idiot Christian talk show host.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Fisking Steve King

Not the author, the US Congressman from Iowa (R-Dumbfuckistan). This is the latest idiocy that our answer to Rick Santorum vomited forth:

"The values we have we pour through marriage into our children and into the next generation. Our religious values. Our values of faith. Our values. Our work ethic. Our entire culture comes through a man and a woman joined in holy matrimony, being blessed with children and pouring those values into the children and then living vicariously through them as they go off and we are blessed with grandchildren."
And this:
"I still believe that is the most important value. But I also recognize that if we don’t save marriage, we can’t remain pro-life."
Ed Brayton lets him have it:
"(T)his really has nothing to do with "protecting families," it has to do with destroying families that do not fit the blueprint that the Good and the Righteous want them to fit. They think gays are icky and cursed by God and therefore we should do everything we can to make their lives miserable so they'll stop being icky and gay and start being Good and Righteous. This is all quite absurd, of course, but given the lack of reasoning skills of those who believe it, that is probably a point in its favor."
Some people wonder what kind of argument King was making in his "if we don't save marriage, we can't remain pro-life" remark. Don't read too much into this. He's using the emotionally-charged buzzwords that will "rally the base" as Karl Rove would say. In short, he's relying on the emotionally gullible and critically-thinking-challenged to go all gooey and get him re-elected. Because it worked so well with Republicans in 2006 and 2008.

The hilarious thing is, there's a Facebook group for those who support this 'tard for Governor next year. Guys, go right ahead--he's the one Republican who could practically guarantee Culver's re-election.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Open Letter to Fred Phelps

To the Reverend Fred Phelps and the Congregation of the Westboro Baptist Church.

Greetings, and God’s blessings to you on this fine day.

I am a business entrepreneur in Ames, Iowa, with a proposition for your congregation. As you may have heard, the State Supreme Court has recently ruled in favor of gay marriage under our current Constitution. Given that your church has gained such a well-deserved reputation throughout the country and, indeed, the world for drawing attention to the cause of gay rights, I thought you might be willing to take the cause to the next level. Namely, I would like to discuss with you the possible purchase of your church building so as to move it to Iowa. I have great hopes that it will serve wonderfully as a wedding chapel catering to the needs of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-gendered community.

I would like to state at this time that I intend to pay your church the utmost respect it deserves. For a group of people who have done so much to underscore the need for full GLBT equality in this country, you should be granted nothing less. I would even allow all Westboro members to take part in wedding ceremonies as honored guests and even officiate, pending the completion of the appropriate paperwork in the State of Iowa, of course.

I know there are any number of gay and lesbian couples who are right now supremely willing to talk to you about all the ways in which your efforts have helped this day come about, what with your church demonstrating to the world that they are simply people with a right to live in peace, just like everyone else.

If you are interested please contact me at your earliest convenience. I await your response eagerly.

Cordially yours,

Paul Lundgren
Ames, IA

What Would Jesus Do?

...for a Klondike Bar?

Via Passive-Aggressive Notes.

Ebert Splats O'Reilly

Oh, how I love this man...

"Bill, I am concerned that you have been losing touch with reality recently. Did you really say you are more powerful than any politician?

That reminds me of the famous story about Squeaky the Chicago Mouse. It seems that Squeaky was floating on his back along the Chicago River one day. Approaching the Michigan Avenue lift bridge, he called out: Raise the bridge! I have an erection!"
Roger Ebert is living proof that just because you can't speak, doesn't mean you can't communicate.

Via Sullivan.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Think you can reason with a homophobe?

Try this little screed over on Newsvine...

"After holding back and just reading the comments I feel that I must post yet again. Say what you will but homosexuals are not even human. They are diseased, degenerate creatures who mock humans. The goal that they will freely admit to is to erase any trace of decency or humanity from the planet until we are all wallowing in filth and disease like them. If you are religous at all you recognize that this is the work of satan and that they have no souls, just lust for each other. Someone mentioned that it was Lamda who filed the suit, not Nambla. What is the difference, perversion is perversion, and if you don't think that the ACLU won't soon be filing on behalf of pedos then you are the one being foolish. The ACLU exists for purpose only, to destroy America. Hopefully one day there will be a test to determine if the fetus is gay. Then you could abort it since it is not human. Only the then will we wipe this scourge from the world. Until then we will have to do it one at a time."
Today's little ugly ray of sunshine compliments of some fuck-tard calling himself Dragonman (and what God thinks of this Holy Joe taking on one of the totem animals of Satan, I wonder).

And in case you think he's just a homophobe, here's a followup:
"Of course not only whites will be allowed to live. Someone needs to do the labour. As far as the comparison to Hitler goes, thank you. But remember it the victors who write history. The allies won so they wrote that Hitler was evil. Not true, he was a man who believed in the humanity of mankind and strove to defeat the forces of slime that would drag it down, hey, you have to break a few eggs to make an omelette. "
I'm not even going to respond to his bullshit: I'm going to put out an open call to Christians to oppose and decry this crap wherever you find it. And turn these people in to the authorities...the 1st Amendment doesn't cover implied threats against individuals like this.
Update: as much as I'd like to make good on that last sentence, the law actually only protects implicit threats against specific individuals.

Gay Marriage in Two Parts

First, the Vermont Legislature has overridden the governor's veto, and becomes the fourth state in the union to approve gay marriage.

Second, Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal dresses down one of the bigots. The term is pwns:

Via Sullivan.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Snow in April

I think God's smiting us for approving gay marriage...

Or, you know, not...

Friday, April 3, 2009

Marriage equality comes to Iowa

The Iowa Supreme Court has unanimously approved marriage equality for gays in Iowa. Not just civil unions, marriage. Just as it damned well should be.

There's a lot of love and hate going around the blogosphere for this state right now, but the anti-gay forces are going to have a hell of a fight on their hands. Sullivan:

"Such an amendment requires the votes of a simple majority in both the Iowa House and Iowa Senate in two consecutive sessions, followed by a passing vote of the people of Iowa.... Such a change would require approval in consecutive legislative sessions and a public vote, which means a ban would could not be put in place until at least 2012 unless lawmakers take up the issue in the next few weeks."
Which isn't going to happen; Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal put the kibbosh on that notion.

I love this state. For all its bad qualities, it really is a sensible, cordial, low-stress place to live. And we've set an example for tolerance.

Cycle Ninja blog love goes out to Mickey, Jen, JP, Kris, and all the others out there.
Update: Court decision summary is here (thanks, Des Moines Register). It basically said the only differences between gay couples and straight couples are their inability to procreate with each other and their sexual orientation. In other words, the standing law of Iowa marriage was discriminatory because of sexual orientation and should be thrown out. GOOD.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

James Randi Education Foundation: Pigasus Awards 2008

My previous rant was in defense of the JREF, so I might as well show you how full of amazing they are:

"Every year, on the appropriate date of April 1, the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) gives out the Pigasus Awards, a dubious honor to people or organizations that have done their best in the past year to snuff out science and promote irrationality. The award is named after the beloved mascot of the JREF because, after all, when paranormal powers are proven, pigs will fly.

The five categories of the Pigasus Award are:

1. To the Scientist who said or did the silliest thing relating to occult, supernatural, or paranormal subjects in the preceding twelve months.

2. To the Funding Organization that supports the most useless study related to the occult, supernatural, or paranormal during the year.

3. To the Media outlet that reported as fact the most outrageous occult, supernatural, or paranormal claim.

4. To the Performer who fooled the greatest number of people with the least effort in that twelve-month period.

5. For the most persistent refusal to face reality.

This year's (dis)honorees are:

1) Dr. Colin Ross, who claims he can shoot electromagnetic radiation from his eyes;

2) The Producers of the movie "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed";

3) Late night cable TV stations;

4) Jenny McCarthy; who has written books and appeared on countless TV shows promoting measles; and

5) Kevin Trudeau; who sold quack books even after the government fined him for it."

And a picture of their mascot:

It kinda looks like Ben Stein, too.

James Randi Education Foundation suspended by YouTube

YouTube is rapidly becoming a bastion of cowards who kowtow to religious extremists. In fairness, they're not the only ones out there who still consider free speech a quaint notion--for other people. Here are some examples...

  • A guitarist whose parodies of other world guitar players got banned for copyright infringement.
  • Banned in Thailand: because some people were disrespectful to the king.
  • Banned in Turkey: For users being disprespectful to their George Washington, Mustafa Kamel Ataturk (They sed hee had duh gay!!!!11!1!)
And this is just a sampling. The final two were the work of governments, not YouTube itself. But the Tube is hardly innocent.

The most recent victim is the James Randi Education Foundation. Named after the famed magician and skeptic, the Foundation is a bastion of critical thinking and scientific endeavor, and puts on any number of excellent programs, particularly The Amaz!ng Meeting, or TAM for short. From Wikipedia:
"Since 2003, the JREF has annually hosted The Amaz!ng Meeting (TAM), a gathering of scientists, skeptics, atheists. Perennial speakers include Christopher Hitchens, Penn & Teller, Phil Plait, Michael Shermer and Julia Sweeney.

Richard Dawkins and Joe Nickell appeared at the 2005 TAM 3."

For those of you not in the loop, that's a who's who of the most notable speakers in the freethinking community. Other invitees include astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse-Tyson, Adam Savage of Mythbusters, PZ Myers of Pharyngula fame...I could go on forever.

Well, the JREF had some Amaz!ng (sorry) video clips on YouTube, all of which have been taken down because of a suspended account. Nobody, including the JREF, has an explanation.

I suspect creationist scum. (but I repeat myself).

And I know I'm jumping to conclusions, but that's what blogs are for. And I can't tell you how tough it is to express a complaint in 350 characters, which is the allotted amount for a YouTube protest. But I managed...

“Please restore the account of the James Randi Education Foundation. And please consider that your company is rapidly gaining a reputation as being too reactionary in responding to radicals wishing to suppress free speech. I can’t help but think that other video sites will gain a competitive advantage over you eventually if that persists.”

Upside, hopefully more people will see YouTube as the fraidy-cat, making-money-is-our-only-priority organization it is, and start using other sites like Vimeo. And, maybe, a lot more publicity for the JREF, which is truly a kick-ass group of people.

Via Pharyngula.

Greta Christina: 11 myths about atheism

This blog post is completely full of win. Money quote:

"If you want to criticize atheists, individually or as a movement, please do. We're not perfect, and the current incarnation of our movement is fairly young, with all the flaws of a young social movement.

But don't spread lies about us. Don't fearmonger about us. Don't assume that you know who we are without listening to what we have to say.

And don't criticize us in ways that are just meant to shut us up.


Via Friendly Atheist.

Best atheist comic: Jesus & Mo