Archive for April, 2008

Quote of the day

April 30, 2008 1 comment

John Derbyshire on the Intelligent Design movement:

There is only a gaggle of fools and fraudsters, gaping and pointing like Apaches on seeing their first locomotive: “Look! It moves! There must be a ghost inside making it move!”

I move we make that the new dictionary definition of Intelligent Design.

Categories: Religion

No paintings for you

April 29, 2008 5 comments

Connecticut Woman Says She Stole Hundreds of Paintings to Prepare for Apocalypse

WATERBURY, Conn. — A 53-year-old Waterbury woman has pleaded guilty to stealing more than 150 paintings reportedly after God told her the end of the world is near.

Diane Catalani was arrested last year. According to court documents, Catalani told a psychologist that she hoarded what she stole to show God before the Apocalypse that there are still good people in the world.

The prosecutor says it’s clear that Catalani was suffering from mental illness at the time she stole the paintings.

I don’t know, you’d think God would have been able to see the paintings and incorporate their existence into his judgment. Then again, I think it’s obvious that prayer is pointless if God is omniscient, so what do I know?

There seems to be a spectrum for the clarity of your “personal relationship” with God. A feeling that God exists is par for the course, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is a little weird, receiving various bits of trivia for your TV show is crazy (but not mental hospital crazy), and being commanded to do something is a trip to the psych ward. The fuzzier your signal, the less crazy you are.

Categories: Religion

Pay for music online?

April 27, 2008 4 comments

There are quite a few online music sellers these days. I occasionally wonder if I should start using one or the other, but they’re obviously not at the point where I get much out of them. So I get to thinking, what would work for me?

My music comes primarily from downloads right now. I don’t download a ton of music, but it’s a significant amount. I also buy CDs, though I buy fewer CDs than albums I download (I buy more CDs than I would if I didn’t download, however). I also almost exclusively download whole albums. The process generally goes I download an album, I like or don’t like it, if I like it enough I buy the CD at some point in the future. I buy CDs for essentially two reasons: supporting the band and sound quality. I don’t get to go to many shows out here, so buy a band’s CD is the best way I have to support them. As far as sound quality, I like having the option of popping a CD in my home theater setup and listening with my Sennheisers. Burned CDs from MP3s don’t cut it.

So the current online models don’t help me much. I don’t download music to have digital copies of it, I download it because it’s easy access to a lot of music and I don’t have to waste money to hear a new album I may or may not like. So I shy away from actually buying digital copies of songs. I also run Linux, which means DRM essentially ends any compatibility with existing services. Of course, if I weren’t running Linux, I still wouldn’t put up with DRM. The selection on some of these services also sucks. My taste runs from pretty mainstream (Radiohead, The Decemberists), to less popular but widely available (Opeth, Porcupine Tree), to pretty obscure bands (The Pineapple Thief, Do Make Say Think). It’s hard for any online service to span that range.

What would I support, then? A subscription based service might work. A monthly fee and I can download a certain amount of good quality MP3s, DRM-free. On top of that, the option to purchase lossless copies and/or CDs of what I’ve downloaded would be good. It would have to be a pretty significant discount from typical store prices, but it could work. The selection obviously has to be wide enough to make it worth the cost, which is maybe the biggest problem. The store also has to work on my OS, meaning it should probably be web-based and not an application like iTunes.

I’ve bought maybe 7 CDs this year so far. That’s probably $80-$90 in four months. That’s $20-$22 a month. At $8 a CD, that’s $56, leaving $30 or so for a monthly fee, which works out to $7.50 a month. $8 a CD and $7.50 a month? That doesn’t seem implausible to me. If you go less than that, I’m probably saving money by switching to the service.

Maybe it is implausible. I don’t really know. But that’s what it would take.

Categories: Music, Tech

No intelligence within

April 27, 2008 32 comments

Well, I went and saw Expelled. I was not impressed.

The first thing that wasn’t impressive was the fact that the theater had the reels out of order. The first two reels were swapped, so there were no opening credits until a third of the way through the movie (right before they mocked panspermia). That’s not the documentary’s fault, though.

The film opens (for most people, anyway) with a discussion of those who’ve been “expelled” by the “Darwinian establishment” for their pro-ID ways. Unfortunately for Stein, he’s almost entirely wrong about these cases. Everyone likes martyrs, but there aren’t any to be found here.

The film talks all the leading lights of the Discovery Institute and the ID movement along with prominent anti-religion scientists. I characterize them like that for a reason, which I’ll return to in a moment. As other reviews have noted, the film’s lack of any real discussion of ID or evolution is striking. People say it’s science, it’s creationism, it has good supporting evidence, it doesn’t, etc, but there’s not discussion of any of those points. Granted, this is a pro-ID documentary and there really isn’t any pro-ID evidence, but you’d think they’d at least attempt to make the case that ID is a legitimate theory, rather just asserting its legitimacy. No one coming out of that film will have any idea if ID is any more credible than holocaust denial. Also, David Berlinski is sitting in the worst chair for talking head footage. Sit up, dammit.

The flow of the film is somewhat incoherent. We bounce around from talking to IDists, scientists, talking about court cases, watching Ben Stein in Germany, etc, all interspersed with footage from the Soviet Union and the Nazis. Much of the film’s message consists of demanding an open debate in academia about ID. Then they starting talking about court cases over the content of science classes in high schools. They avoid explaining how the two are related in order to pile it on as more suppression of ID. Then they go off and discuss how Darwinism inspired the Nazis. Is the message that we need open debate or that Darwinism causes evil? Of course the connection of Darwinism and the Nazis is quite dishonest. Anti-semitism and selective breeding existed long before Darwin. Science gives us descriptions of the mechanisms of how the world works. A scientific theory does not tell us how to act. It’s a description that’s either true or not true. What made the Nazis so bad was not what scientific opinions they held, but how they acted on them and other beliefs. The documentary could have criticized replacing morality with science, but it didn’t. It criticized Darwinism when it was used for illegitimate purposes.

There’s always lots of controversy about how scientists should engage the public on scientific issues like ID, which is grounded in religion. Someone like Dawkins is an outspoken and very open atheist. In the film he reads a passage describing the Hebrew god from The God Delusion. It’s one of my favorite quotes from the book, but it’s not likely to win anyone over. A similar situation exists with P.Z. Myers and Daniel Dennett, though Myers was very soft spoken and Dennett’s comments were limited. This is sort of an issue, but I don’t think it matters in the end. We who dislike religion should talk about it and we have every right to be angry. What does matter is the dishonesty in using almost exclusively outspoken non-religious scientists as the other side in the movie. Talk to someone like Ken Miller? That would just upend their entire argument. Science has certainly deconverted a lot of people (me included), but you don’t have be an atheist to be a successful scientist. You just can’t ignore the facts and try and publish papers that argue for your religious views and expect scientists to have much respect for you.

In any case, the film does appear to be a flop. I went to a late showing, but there were only four people in the theater, at least three of which weren’t there looking to be convinced of anything. I mean, I assume the guy behind the two of us who called Eugenie Scott a “fucking cunt” was already on a side. I know little about filmmaking, but my brother, a film student, said the documentary appeared to be shot by a “third grader with down syndrome,” so I don’t think it was good from a technical standpoint, either. The documentary is very much the Michael Moore formula, with interspersed animations, footage of the documentarian in his search for truth, attempted gotchas, and entering some place uninvited only to be kicked out. None of it’s done particularly well and with the content being mostly lies and distortions, it doesn’t add up to much of a documentary.

Categories: Culture, Religion, Science


April 23, 2008 Leave a comment

I’ve been debating whether I should go see this or not, since it’s playing here in town. On the one hand, I’ve read about its claims elsewhere and I don’t want to contribute to an incoherent anti-evolution movie. On the other, I’ll feel better about criticizing it if I actually go see it.

In any event, here’s the NCSE’s rebuttal page.

Categories: Science

You morons

April 22, 2008 Leave a comment

So now both Obama and Clinton are pandering to the anti-vaccine crowd, just like McCain.

Obama is the least worst here, though not by much. McCain says there’s strong evidence a preservative in the vaccines is causing autism. This is obviously and dangerously wrong. Clinton’s answers to the questionnaire indicate she is going to work to remove thimerosal from vaccines and fund investigations into the link between vaccines and autism. That’s advocating unnecessary, but not obviously dangerous actions. Obama simply said the science is inconclusive and more research is needed. That’s wrong, but contains fewer unnecessary actions than Clinton’s position (then again, he doesn’t say he doesn’t support removing thimerosal from vaccines).

Still, this is all very annoying. Stop pandering to obnoxious idiots, please.

Categories: 2008 elections, Science


April 21, 2008 3 comments

You’ll find none here. God saved the missionaries and lit a 15 year old on fire. Sounds like a good plan to me.

I tend to have that reaction whenever anyone says something like that. Clearly, you’re just that important. Conversely, God having a plan also explains unexpected deaths and hardships, so I’m not entirely sure of the explanatory power of a plan where every conceivable event confirms it.

On the other hand, this kind of thing does make me understand why people thank God for being blessed and all that. I’m pretty sure I’d go all paranoid if I believed in a god who consigns much of the world to terrible poverty with only a slim chance of hearing his message. Oh, and the rest of us are subject to random acts of violence, natural disasters, and fraud, with no apparent regard for the beliefs, actions, or responsibility of those victimized.

It certainly doesn’t sound comforting.

Read more…

Categories: Religion

Curiosities of the global warming debate

April 15, 2008 11 comments

As I said a couple posts ago, I’m nothing if not current. I find it curious how often global warming deniers equate belief in human caused climate change with faith. This post from one of Montana’s newer conservative blogs (and so far, what appears to be one of our better ones) is a good example. Cody’s list of “truths” is a bit muddled.

The first point (which seems to conflict with point 8 ) claims man made global warming is a scientific theory. Well, sort of. The mechanisms causing it are the province of scientific theory, but whether the Earth is warming or not is a factual question (a difficult one, of course). This is similar to evolution, where we have the fact that evolution that has occurred and the theory detailing the mechanisms driving it. I’ll return to this in a moment.

Points 3 and 4 seem to address the claims of those who accept global warming who bring up the fact that science is based on consensus. Cody is right that science isn’t democratic. If you’re a scientist studying global warming and someone counters your research by claiming the consensus says otherwise, that person is an idiot. However, we aren’t scientists studying global warming, so this is largely irrelevant. We’re people who don’t have adequate expertise to fully judge these issues. We have to rely on and respect the consensus to some degree. We base public policy on scientific consensus. Scientists who explain the consensus are educators and those who advocate policy solutions are practicing politics. Seems pretty clear to me.

The next two points are the big ones, I think:

# Man-made catastrophic global warming is not a hypothesis, it cannot be tested or falsified via experiment. Similarly, it cannot be proved true. Only time will tell.

# The acceptance of things unproven by scientific method relies on faith; faith is not restricted to matters of religion. Nor is faith a bad thing – it allows us to function in a world about which we do not know everything.

Let’s take the first one. It’s strikingly similar to what creationists say about evolution. Climate scientists create models based around our current understanding of the physical processes that contribute to our climate. These models make predictions about what we should see in certain situations, past or present. We then test the models by comparing their predictions to data from those past situations or on data that comes from those future scenarios as they move into the past. If they don’t match, the models are changed. Real Climate explains this quite well (and they’re actually climate scientists, so that helps).

Of course, Cody is right that these models can’t be proved true. That Cody thinks this is a relevant point reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of science. The scientific method doesn’t prove things. It provides evidence (it can disprove hypotheses, of course). There’s always uncertainty. We’ve done lots of experiments, but can you really prove you aren’t going to wake up tomorrow and the acceleration due to gravity is 4.3 m/s2 instead of 9.8 m/s2? Nope. However, we can use the inductive reasoning central to science to say that’s vanishingly unlikely. We use similar reasoning when we accept a climate model’s predictions of future temperature. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot more uncertainty here, but it’s the same basic principle. And the process is science. It’s just not 7th grade biology science.

The second point above (and those following) seems to fall away after that. Faith is a loaded term. It doesn’t mean belief in things that we don’t know for certain but which we have good evidence for, as we do with global warming. In means belief regardless of evidence. Now, some who accept global warming do describe their belief as faith; Mark T has done so. This is slightly different than Cody’s claim. Mark has chosen to rely on scientific consensus because he doesn’t have the competency to judge the science (which is much more honest and humble than a lot of us who like to talk about his issue are). It’s not blind trust, though. Science has a pretty decent track record and much of this seems superficially true anyway. Mark has chosen a position based on a line of reasoning that’s pretty valid. I don’t think that’s really faith, but it’s not necessarily rational inquiry, either.

Cody doesn’t seem to be a fan of environmentalists, either. Much of global warming denialism seems to be sustained by that same antipathy. I’m right there with them, for the most part. Lots of environmentalists are shallow and have only a superficial understanding of these issues. They’re stuck in a mindset that causing them again and again to prescribe the same policy solution. It’s more theological than rational. They deify nature and view any human intrusion as wrong, rather than something to be debated on a case by case basis. If we cross nature, if we try to control it, we’ll be destroyed. They’re so narrow-minded they refuse to look outside their belief that we just have to limit humanity’s impact; instead of trying to push society to a position where we can preserve nature without hurting people’s livelihoods, they play prophets of doom, warning us to repent. They’re suckered by any crisis that fits their theology.

That said, they’re not always wrong. We did burn a hole in the ozone layer (and we were able to fix because we had viable alternatives to CFCs). Pollution and mining have had negative impacts on our environment. It’s not enough to define yourself in opposition to them. Global warming is certainly the in style crisis right now. There’s over the top alarmism. But it is real and we do need to do something about it.

Another thing denialists seem to be afraid of is liberals pushing their politics as solutions to this issue. Yes, that’s going to happen. Guess who’s fault it is? It’s the people who have better ideas who cling to denial because we’re not absolutely sure and because the annoying environmentalists believe in it. As long as we liberals are committed to this problem, our solutions are going to become policy. Don’t like that? Stop debating what’s already been debated and start talking about policy. Start promoting solutions.

Categories: Environment, Science, The Right


April 14, 2008 1 comment

Seriously? Maybe it wasn’t the brightest remark Obama’s ever made, but come on. It’s now elitist to say some people in small towns are bitter and frustrated and their politics reflect that? I think that’s just true.

Now, on a broader scale, I think he’s wrong. Gun culture and the Christian Right are hardly due to economic frustration, even though frustrated and bitter people exist. But we’re (again) not having a debate on the merits of his comment. We’re talking about how elitist and condescending it was.

Isn’t this over yet?

Categories: 2008 elections

Politics? What?

April 9, 2008 Leave a comment

I will eventually start commenting on politics again. For now, this isn’t a bad perspective on the recent candidate visits to our state. I’m not a Clinton supporter, but it does appear a lot of Obama supporters were acting like idiots. Then there’s the raving lunatic in LitW’s comments, but that’s really not different than usual.

On the other hand, Clinton isn’t doing anything to impress people lately. Claiming she was under fire when she wasn’t, claiming that she was criticizing the Iraq war before Obama…it’s more than a little annoying. The pure cynicism that is her advocacy for seating MIchigan and Florida is older, but still damned annoying.

She’s behind by every measure. It’s close, but essentially impossible for her to come out on top. She’s going to have to have the superdelegates overturn the will of Democratic voters. That’s a terrible outcome for the party, so I can’t blame people for thinking she has sense of entitlement.

Categories: 2008 elections, Montana

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