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A public conversation about our worlds.

  • Monday: Morgan J. Locke
  • Tuesday: Madeleine E. Robins
  • Wednesday: Maureen F. McHugh
  • Thursday: Bradley Denton
  • Friday: Steven Gould
  • Saturday: Caroline Spector
  • Sunday: Rory Harper

Brain Activity



Defending Freedom of Speech Thru Gag Orders or Belief Versus Knowledge

January 11th, 2010 by Steven Gould

I am a fervent supporter of the separation of Church and State for several reasons.  Among other things, I believe that people should be able to hold any spiritual, religious, and crackpot notions in their head that they want.  Thus, if Tom Cruise wants to believe that the director of the galactic confederacy (a guy named Xenu) brought aliens to this planet, stacked them around volcanoes, and killed them with H-Bombs 75 million years ago, causing their essences to pollute us ever since, then that’s fine.  If Christians want to believe that children are born inherently sinful, great, go for it.  If Buddhists want to believe that they will be reborn after they die, not necessarily as a human, but reborn nonetheless, fine.  None of them should be able to tell the others what to believe anymore than I should be able to tell them that when we Frisbeetarians die our souls go up on the roof and we can’t get them down.

That’s what faith is about.  A belief in something without evidence.  Yes, the Catholic church believes in miracles.  Documentation on the other hand, is iffy.  Never mind.  Let them believe.

Behavior on the other hand is a different thing.  If we are to agree on public policies that affect everyone, they really need to be based on things we can demonstrate to each other.

For instance, it is generally agreed that stepping off a cliff is a bad idea.  You can demonstrate this in many ways.  I prefer dropping a watermelon rather than an actual person, but we can clearly demonstrate, time and again, that whether the watermelon hits the ground or the ground hits the watermelon, it’s not going to end well for the watermelon.  This is called evidence.  Whether I’m an atheist, a Christian, a Buddhist, a Muslim, a Scientologist, we can agree, stepping off cliffs–generally bad.

Interestingly enough, it was probably only anecdotal, at first.  “I heard this guy, named Ugh went off the cliff after the mastodon and it was not pretty.” “Yeah?”  Then, through something we call inductive reasoning, we saw that every time someone went off the cliff (and lets not be petty, we’re talking cliff, not a slight drop–fifty feet minimum) there was clean-up involved.  (Unless you landed in a big pile of dung like what happened during the second defenestration of Prague.  And there was still clean-up involved.)

So, here’s where I get really incensed.  I believe that our public policies on health should be based on this evidence thing.  I don’t want people going, “Oh, my brother-in-law got aids and they threw him off a cliff.  It cured him completely.”  In particular, I am upset with the Anti-Vaccination movement, a “health” movement that is killing people daily. In the 1980′s there was doubt raised about the safety of vaccinations and ingredients used to preserve those vaccinations.  When concerns are raised, people conduct studies.  They investigate the concerns.

Consider Vioxx (rofecoxib).  On September 30, 2004, Merck voluntarily withdrew rofecoxib from the market because of concerns about increased risk of heart attack and stroke associated with long-term, high-dosage use.  Previous and subsequent studies demonstrated an 4-fold increase of heart attack and stroke.

In the late eighties, a concern was raised about vaccinations, the preservative thiomersal, and autism.  There was a concern so studies were done.  There was no correlation.  Tiomersal was removed from vaccines though in 1999 and in the interval since, there has been no drop in autism.  More detail here.

And still the anti-vaxxers claim it causes autism, though they’ve mostly shifted their attacks to the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine.  Again, evidence is against them.  Unfortunately, their influence has increased the number of families who don’t vaccinate their children leading to increased outbreaks of these diseases, some leading to death or permanent disability.

Here’s a related insanity, aptly described by Rebecca Watson of Skepchik and the Skeptics Guide to the Universe.

Posted in Medicine, Politics, Religion, Science | 13 Comments »

Time for a Vacation

May 7th, 2009 by Madeleine Robins

All right.  I’ve been a bad Madeleine, absent for yea, this long time.  But I’m still here.  I’m checkin’ in, right?  And look!  I brought you something.  ::rummages around for embed code.::  See?   

Feel better now? Of course not. You have cholera!

Posted in Mad, Politics | 7 Comments »

Death by Tiny Invisible Pig

April 25th, 2009 by Rory Harper


Hey, guys – Go visit any of the major news web sites. Cool stuff today. According to the CDC, the Swine Flu Pandemic is going to slam into us sometime in the next few weeks, slaughtering the population and destroying civilization as we knew it.

 

Finally.

 

I mean, just between you and me and the pigs, I was beginning to doubt that civilization as we knew it was going to end at all. It sucked to find myself being pessimistic about my pessimism.

 

Some days, I just wanted to smash my forehead into something, hard enough to hurt, but not hard enough to actually damage my brain. You know?

 

That Bird Flu thing just never seemed to be able to get off the ground. And it looks like Apophis is going to stubbornly refuse to smash the earth into molten flinders.

 

The Global Warming thing was coming along nicely, after we convinced Bush and his crew that it was all a liberal conspiracy against Hummers – and you know how insanely freaked out they were with Clinton and his hummers in the Oval Office. Then we messed up and elected an administration that actually believes in science. Who knows what the hell they’ll do to demonize GW the climate like they demonized GW the Bush?

 

Nuclear war? Well, the Soviets were a great disappointment to me, personally. They had the capability for about thirty years, and could never sober up from the vodka binges long enough to push the red button. North Korea and Iran are just laughable wannabes.

 

I’ve got a small bet going that Pakistan will fall into the hands of the Taliban next year and, maddened by the presence of infidels somewhere on the rest of the planet, will launch their hundred nukes at somebody. If they hit India, then my job is less likely to be outsourced, so this is a two-fer. They’ve got enough bombs to trigger at least a Nuclear Autumn.

 

But that’ll be offset by the damn global warming that we’ve been trying so hard to cause. Unless Obama or Steven Chu or Paul Krugman fix it first.

 

I’m immensely cheered by today’s news, though.

 

I went out this afternoon and bought my survival kit. Here are my top ten items:

 

  1. Three boxes of Kleenex – Will need them if I get the flu, and the allergies have been really nasty all year anyhow.
  2. Three containers of Crystal Light no-cal drink powder – I already got a bunch of iodine pills for purifying water, at Rachael’s insistence. Now I can drink both safely and deliciously.
  3. Three boxes of wet kitty treats – Little Tex and Secret Kitty are likely to get grumpy while trapped in the house for a month or so, and this will help. I’m contemplating buying some more catnip toys tomorrow, before there’s a run on them.
  4. A pound of Kraft Mild Cheddar cheese – It was on sale, and I like cheese.
  5. Two pounds of Skinner Vermicelli – Yummy and nutritious and would survive a nuclear war, I think.
  6. Two glass containers of Ragu Roasted Garlic spaghetti sauce – To make the Vermicelli taste even yummier. Also, the Ragu has catsup in it, which, as Ronald Reagan taught us, is an essential vegetable.
  7. Four pounds of Folger’s coffee – Life isn’t worth living if I don’t get my coffee in the morning. Also, it’ll be worth its weight in hummers after the apocalypse.
  8. Lots of cans of Dinty Moore beef stew and microwaveable plastic lunches of various types and brands – I think I forgot to get crackers to go with these. Dammit.
  9. Four pounds of Imperial Pure Cane Granulated Sugar – Screw the Splenda if civilization ends. I want real sugar in my coffee.
  10. A 1.75 liter bottle of Bacardi Gold – Should make a great internal antiseptic to help me avoid getting infected. I forgot to get the Coke that potentiates its healing effect. Dammit.

 

***

Personally, I think I did pretty good, considering how off-the-cuff and panicky this was. I already had plenty of toilet paper. And you can use the Kleenex that way in a pinch, in case you didn’t know.

 

I think I’ll be able to survive in my apartment all through the Great Dying. Surely they won’t disconnect the Internet. It’s all satellite communications these days, anyhow, and the satellites will keep on working fine for years and years.

 

Then I can come out and the glorious dream of my childhood will begin – me, being one of the last ragged inhabitants in a post-industrial nightmare wasteland. Kind of like moving to Detroit, only more fun.

 

I’ll have my gun with me. I bet I can find some bullets for it, somewhere out there. Unless they’re all buried in some Teabagger’s back yard.

 

Rachael and Jesse will survive, as will all of you, and my sister and her husband, and all of my Goddam Neopagan Tribe™. We’ll form the nucleus of a new and intrinsically pessimistic society, as I’ve always hoped for. With motorcycles.

 

It’ll be great!

 

We should all meet at that filling station right outside Bastrop, where you turn to go to or from Austin, depending on the direction you’re traveling in. You know the one.

 

See you all in a couple of months!

 

*

*

*

 

Hey….

 

….I just had the inevitable thought…

 

The CDC says the Swine Flu is mutating. Maybe we’ll get lucky and it’ll mutate into —

 

Zombie Apocalypse Virus !!!!

 

Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

 

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Posted in Dammit!, Environment, Food, Health and Safety, Politics, Rachael is Awesome, Rory, Zombies | 14 Comments »

Post Snark?

January 22nd, 2009 by Steven Gould

Pablo Defendini pointed me at this:

I’ve been thinking a lot about internet snarkiness lately, and what I keep coming back to is that snark was a defense mechanism that evolved perfectly in the truth-deficient, cynicism-rich compost heap of the Bush era. [emphasis Steve's] When most of everything that’s told to you is bullshit, it’s easier to treat everything with suspicion. Genuineness is met with skepticism. Enthusiasm with ridicule. Optimism with derision. It’s easier to keep things at arm’s distance that way – keep them where they can’t hurt you.

A Post-Snark Era?  From Enter the Octopus

Posted in Politics, Steve | 1 Comment »

No Words Necessary

January 19th, 2009 by Steven Gould

And I don’t even drink beer (though I cook with it.)

Posted in Politics, Steve | 1 Comment »

Climate Change We Can Believe In

December 4th, 2008 by Morgan J. Locke

So far, so good: Obama and his team are making strong, prominent statements about climate change as an important national security concern. This is very, very good news. With most trends happening faster than the models predict, and Kyoto about to expire, there is little enough time to act before the window closes and catastrophic change becomes inevitable.

Thank goodness the grown-ups are in charge.

Do us proud, Obama&Co. There won’t be time for a do-over.

Here’s the relevant podcast from PRI.

Posted in Environment, Politics, Science | 2 Comments »

Obama & Change; Crypto & the 2nd Amendment

November 15th, 2008 by Morgan J. Locke

Thought the first: Apropos Obama and change. He’s getting flak for choosing experienced politicians to flesh out his administration. For instance, in the NYTimes today, in an article regarding his meeting with Clinton to discuss her taking the Secretary of State role:

… there are clear dangers for Mr. Obama as well … her appointment could undercut his argument that he is bringing true change to Washington.

I get why people are concerned that choosing Washington insiders might undercut Obama’s message. We’re all sick to death of the secret memos, the corruption, and the spinelessness we’ve seen over the past eight years. But change is not simply about the people. It’s about the process.  Obama’s message was that he wanted to change the way politics is played in Washington. Reaching out to former rivals in substantive ways is, guess what;  a change! And using people who have experience in getting things done when the country is in this current state of crisis seems like a wise move to me…. As long as he combines this reaching out with a willingness to hold the criminals accountable.

Thought the second: I got a grin out of xkcd’s latest comic. I’m so there…

Remember, kids: you read it here first. As I said then:

The Second Amendment was clearly intended to protect from seizure the tools the citizenry need to defend themselves from tyranny. Muskets and bullets were the tool of choice back then, but it’s quite clear that the underlying intent was to uphold ordinary people’s ability to defend themselves from a government gone wrong.

In a very real sense, the right to privacy and a free internet is the new “right of people to bear arms.” Even the expression “forewarned is forearmed” gives this notion a nod. Access to information is the new equalizer. There may be no way an ordinary citizen, even armed with an uzi, can stand against the assembled might of the US government, as our founders intended, should our government fail in its duty to not abuse its authority. But we can keep them honest, with access to information and the right to protect our personal information from unreasonable search and seizure.

The struggle against tyranny has graduated from bullets to bits.

Posted in Art, Comics, Dammit!, Morgan, Politics, Technology | 3 Comments »

Many Bothans died to bring us this information…

November 14th, 2008 by Steven Gould

…but more stuffies died to make this!

If these stuffies can come together to make a greater whole, then we Americans–nay, we humans planet wide!–should be able to as well.

(The dismembering and sewing together thing–it will hurt at first.)

(Art by Noble Girl.)

Posted in Labor Relations, Noble Girl, Politics, Pop. Culture, Science Fiction, Steve | 6 Comments »

The Previous Model

November 11th, 2008 by Steven Gould

Taxpayer:  Excuse me, my government, but I was laid off months ago and I haven’t been able to find work and my savings are gone and you’ve cut my unemployment benefits and my family is getting hungry.  How about a hand here?

Government:  If we gave the money to you it would be socialism.  We will now give millions of dollars to the industry that laid you off.  It will trickle down.

Taxpayer:  Uh, that industry took your money and distributed it to its executive golden parachute program with a little bit for its shareholders, then relocated overseas to avoid paying US taxes.

Government:  It’ll work out.

Giving millions to the rich who keep on being rich:  Supply-Side Economics

Giving anything to the poor and middle-class who’ve been pillaged by the rich:  Socialism

Brought to mind by this astonishing comment from a dimension that doesn’t resemble mine.

Posted in Politics, Steve | 9 Comments »

Obama vs. McCain – The Conspiracy

November 11th, 2008 by Rory Harper

I suspect that you’ve all already seen this one, but just in case…

It’s South Park’s  take on the recent election, revealing what was really going on. I think they got it just about right.

Click the pic and go to Season 12, the next-to-last ep, named ‘About Last Night…’. The full episode is on tap.

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Posted in Politics, Pop. Culture, Rory | 3 Comments »

A Change is Gonna Come

November 9th, 2008 by Rory Harper

Props to OpenLeft for posting this tonight.

Seal is out with a new album of soul oldies. This song and vid totally blew me away. I’ve always thought of the Sam Cooke version as being definitive, but Seal’s version competes. Among many others, Otis Redding covered it and did not suck, either.

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Seal was a serous Obama activist. The sub-text here ain’t so sub.

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Addendum: I also really like Seal’s ‘Amazing‘. It feels like a much slicker cousin to Gnarls Barkley’s ‘Crazy‘, which still gets stuck in my head occasionally.

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Posted in Music, Politics, Rory | 1 Comment »

Welcome to the Future

November 5th, 2008 by Steven Gould

Thanks electorate.  Thanks poll workers.  Thanks for a clear and indisputable result.  I am very happy that we’ve got an election that isn’t settled by the Supreme Court.

My only disappointment is Prop 8 in California, a piece of hatred in a night that will otherwise go down in history as a celebration of diversity and hope.

Posted in Dammit!, Personal History, Politics | 4 Comments »

As If You Needed Another Reason

November 3rd, 2008 by Madeleine Robins

I got this in an email.  Pretty certain the gas prices are photoshopped in, but also pretty certain that they’re accurate.  I’ll be back tomorrow with my traditional Election Day exhortation to vote or else, but in the meantime–go fill the tank, why don’tcha.

I must also add that my Father designed that Arco logo sometime in the sixties.  Nice to see it’s still in use.

Posted in Daily Life, History, Mad, Politics | 3 Comments »

Robots Attack!

October 31st, 2008 by Steven Gould

Via SmofBabe.

Posted in Politics, Robots, Science Fiction, Steve | Comments Off

Non-Partisan and Un-Censored: About this voting thing.

October 30th, 2008 by Steven Gould

I laughed AND I was moved.

And, to give a reason, like the people in this video, I vote because I have daughters and I want their future to be viable.

Posted in Politics, Steve | 2 Comments »

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