How Perry ran Texas

If you don’t live in Texas, then you’ve no idea what we’re up against here, but a good introduction to that is this list of

Top 10 Things Texas Governor Rick Perry Doesn’t Want You to Know About Him.

Curiously, this list does not include some of the things Texans most often criticize him for.  For example, last year, he forced through legislation effectively rendering abortions impossible for the majority of women in this state. This brought a riotous crowd of over a thousand protesters in the halls of the capitol.  Previously, In 2011, he cut billions of dollars from the budget for education, thus firing thousands of teachers.  This brought over 10,000 protesters, and my wife and I were among them.  His principle opposition  in both of these instances was State Senator Wendy Davis.

On the day Perry signed his anti-abortion bill, he also signed the execution orders of a woman who was his 500th victim on death row.  The article mentions how Perry allowed a man to be executed who was already exonerated, but it doesn’t mention how Perry had executed more than twice as many prisoners than the next most lethal state.   The article also doesn’t mention how he shot a coyote while jogging, because he jogs with a Ruger .380 strapped to his arm!

Governor Perry also promoted his presidential campaign on his his hatred of homosexuals -as well as his issues against women’s rights and anything that might be of help to the poor.  But he hasn’t just attacked them, he’s also against the environment.  Perry appointees stored toxic waste dangerously close to a communal aquifer which provides drinking water for seven states,  Perry himself is also famous for his unwitting admission that he takes bribes, a fact that was already well-established by documentation.  That is apparently why he deregulated chemical plants that wouldn’t pass federal inspection, and then two of them exploded in suburban neighborhoods.  This is the man who thought that the most appropriate way to deal with record drought was to hold a prayer rally!  That rally failed by the way.  What a surprise.  Yet this article doesn’t mention that either.

This article should also mention that Rick Perry repeatedly positioned unqualified young-earth creationists on the state’s board of education specifically to undermine education in science, health, and social studies.  Thus our SBoE has repeatedly embarrassed the state on an international scale.  Perry also famously bragged that Texas teaches creationism in our public schools, and there are several public schools that do -under the guise of ‘religious studies’, which teach the Bible as literal fact.

So the next time someone asks why I wear high boots like Han Solo, this is why; because we’re in deep shit here.

un-biotic

Isn’t this an amazing image?

Looks like a living horror to me!

I saw this on Twitter, and had to talk about it.  I am impressed that this can be an electron photograph. It has color and shadow. How?  I wouldn’t have thought that possible. But most amazing is what it is, a T4 bacteriophage, a virus which infects E.coli.  Why is that impressive? Well, look at it!  Before this alien lander touched down on this cell, it was a virion, a completely static entity, an inert device in the “off” position.  Once the legs contact the ‘active sites’, it logically activates, just like a space probe; it ‘switched on’. What it does then is insidious.

The way it drills into the cell, so mechanical, so cold.  Just like a robotic probe, a mere machine.  The thing is, these things are not alive.  They’re genetic, they reproduce, they evolve, and they can even be killed, -yet they do not qualify as living organisms.  They’re so very close to that, and they certainly look the part.  Many even have DNA.  But they can’t achieve homeostasis.  They can’t maintain an internal chemical balance, and that is what defines an organism as living. This thing however, this alien invader -is a supra-complex macromolecular nanite mite, existing right at the edge of being ‘alive’.

I don’t know; I just find some concepts fascinating.  Had to share.

Apostacon!

I will be hosting a workshop at Apostacon. This will be the first one I’ve ever done. So helpful suggestions will be appreciated.
I will present a series of faith-based woo arguments and explain the philosophy or fallacy behind them.  We will share the arguments we’ve heard, these Points Refuted A Thousand Times, and compare them to my template to reveal a weakness in their armor. Why do they think theirs is a convincing argument for God/scripture/aliens, whatever?  What’s going on in their minds when they hear our side? We’ll look at their motivation and the strategies in play, and see how to turn it around. How do you reach the religious? How do you reason with one who rejects reason? It’s not always impossible, but there is a trick to it.
We often have arguments on the internet knowing that we’ll never change that one’s mind, but that we might convince the people on the fence.  However sometimes we really want to reach THAT person.  They might be more than just an anonymous internet handle.  They might be someone we know, someone in our circle of family or friends.  This conversation may be inevitable, and we’re either going to butt heads, or we’re going to communicate.  How do you get THAT one to understand enough of your position to at least respect it and get passed it?

This is not intended as a course to de-convert, though that will work on some people. There are categories of believers which will be effected differently, and we’ll talk about that too.

Apostacon is a Pastafarian conference in Omaha Nebraska, September 19th – 21st.  Last year’s event was well-organized and a good time for all. This year’s keynote speaker is Lawrence Krauss!  But there is also another associated event with Neil deGrasse Tyson!  The host of the new Cosmos will present ‘an evening of scientific inquiry’ in the same venue that Friday night.

Tickets for both events are on-sale today, June 16th, and should be purchased before the end of July.  Be sure to register for early-bird pricing to Apostacon using my speaker code, ARA1443.

Feuerstein’s folly

I never heard of Joshua Feuerstein before a couple weeks ago, when the BBC asked my opinion of his viral video. I contributed my bit to their trending News Magazine, but the video below only used a few seconds of that 30 minute interview.

Before they posted this video, I got an email apologizing that something had happened to their recording, such that much of the audio was muffled.  I don’t think I should make another video about this, but I do want to post the missing bits of what I told the BBC.

Feuerstein opens his video repeating the 11th foundational falsehood of creationism, saying that evolution has never been observed.  Even mAcroevolution has been directly observed and documented dozens of times, both in the lab, and in naturally-controlled conditions in the field.

He then moves to the 15th foundational falsehood of creationism, saying that evolution is ‘just’ a theory, like atomic theory, the germ theory of disease, relativity, or the theory of gravity. A ‘theory’ is a body of verifiable facts, testable hypotheses, and natural laws within a given field of study. That field of study *is* the theory. Creationism has no theory, because they have no hypotheses, or natural laws. There’s no body of knowledge there, because there is no part of creationism that anyone can actually show to be true -the way we can with evolution.

Then he jumps onto the 6th FFoC, where ‘evolution’ somehow has to account for the origin of life, the universe, and everything. Actually evolution is only a theory of biodiversity and is limited to population genetics.

Then he evokes the power of will -as if that had anything to do with any aspect of evolution; as if that wasn’t a facet of his own religion instead, wherein Jesus says that anyone who has faith can will mountains to leap into the sea. “Mind over matter” is an aspect of religious faith, not facts like the study of evolution is.

Then he moves onto the 7th FFoC, arguing that evolution is an ‘accident’.  In that he misquotes thermodynamics, showing that he doesn’t know any more about that than he doesn’t know about anything else.  He has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about.

Laughably, he even evokes Bill O’Reilly’s most embarrassing gaff, “Tide goes in, tide goes out, never a miscommunication; you can’t explain that”. It was that line of idiocy with David Silverman on the show that sparked Silverman’s WTF meme.

Then he moves onto Fred Hoyle’s ‘tornado in the junkyard’ fallacy, only he changed the Boeng 747 to a red Lamborghini.

Finally, he wants to believe something that has already been disproved in a court of law a decade ago, and he wants that taught in school anyway, and he wants to expose his ignorance of that loudly and proudly.

I don’t know how he could possibly be sincere.  How could anyone still be that grossly misinformed once they’re immersed in this discussion?  Whenever someone is THAT dumb, they’re likely to be poe. But this guy appears to be making a living at it, and is getting famous with it, and that is another reason to doubt that he would ever concede any of his many mistakes here. Accuracy and accountability simply do not matter to professional creationists.  But I’m least happy that WIldwood Claire awarded him the title of ‘dim bulb of the week’.

Weighing in on Godzilla

Hey Hollywood, would it kill ya to have a science adviser when doing science fiction?

Let me preface the rest of my rant with the admission that I have always been a Godzilla fan.  I wasn’t really a fan of kaiju, (giant Japanese monsters) only Godzilla himself.  He was my hero as a boy, and even now his roar has been my only ring tone any of the cell phones I have ever had.  By the time I hit puberty, I had already lost count of how many times I had seen Godzilla vs the Sea Monster, Son of Godzilla, Monster Zero, and the one that started it all, (for me) the 1956 American-dub called ‘Godzilla, King of the Monsters’.  Literally dozens of movies have been made about this terrible lizard, and all of them have been ridiculous for different reasons.

The original 1954 Japanese film, Gojira was iconic, and only made a couple mistakes of any significance.  (1)They killed him in the end, and we saw his body turned to skeleton. Not the best way to begin 60 years worth of sequels.  (2) Godzilla was depicted as a dinosaur, and was associated with living trilobites.  Even if there was some sort of ‘realm that time forgot’ out in the Pacific somewhere, Trilobites were already extinct before the first dinosaurs, and Godzilla was clearly no dinosaur.

GojiraModelThe conceptual artists reportedly referenced illustrations of dinosaurs, but that’s not what they rendered.  All bi-pedal dinosaurs [Therapods] were digigrade, walking on their toes, like birds, and usually only three or four digits.  Godzilla was plantigrade and pentadactyle, (having five digits and walking on the whole foot) just like lizards.  It even looks like a lizard, apart from the fact that no reptile has an actual nose or external ears.  In a sense, what Toho pictures created was actually an oriental dragon.  These tend to mix reptilian and mammalian traits.

Amusingly in 1954, Toho made a giant lizard and called it a dinosaur.  In 1998, Tristar re-designed Godzilla as a dinosaur, but called it a lizard.  Of course that wasn’t the only thing Tristar did wrong.  They tried to ruin the monster completely.  They took away the only thing that worked in decades of sequels, the look of the monster itself.  Then they took away everything that made Godzilla appealing to Kaiju fans, then they tied it down and shot it.  Such disrespect.  If you’re going to make a movie that already has a fan-base, and they are the ones who will decide whether your film will pay off, respect those fans and the story they’re paying to see.

Where is your god now?

Godzilla vs Buddha

The new Godzilla from Legend pictures tried to do that.  They said their version was the biggest ever, at 355 feet tall.  But that depends on the English dubbing.  Godzilla King of the Monsters said that he was “over 400 feet-tall”.  But they used the same footage as Gojira, in which the monster was only 50 meters, or 164 feet.

Of course, there is another scene in King of the Monsters where Raymond Burr says, “Here in Tokyo… time has been turned back two million years”.  The last of the non-avian dinosaurs were apparently wiped out 65 million years ago. Two million years ago, there were already people and elephants (of a sort) but nothing like the Mesozoic dinosaurs.

Now there is actually one thing Tristar got right.  Out of all the Godzilla movies, Tristar is the ONLY one to get this right.  Their radiated iguana has a much more plausible back story than either Toho’s original dinosaur, being ‘awakened and radiated”, or the new one from Legend Pictures, which I’ll talk about in a moment.

Hollywood, weren’t you embarrassed when you made Avatar, and you made up ‘unobtanium’ as if you could just add a new element to add to the periodic table, and have it be safe to hold in a naked hand?  At least G’14 hired biologists to help design their monster. One thing they got right, that no one else ever did, was that any animal of enormous size tends to have really tiny eyes.

I think that the best science fiction is where the story is fiction but the science is real, or at least as real as possible. If you’re going to write a good sci-fi, and you want me to believe the one wholly implausible idea that your story is about, then every other aspect of the film should be as seemingly reasonable as it possibly can be. That’s what Jurassic Park tried to do. If I am to believe that an impossibly huge reptilian monster is destroying the city, then the back story of it’s origin ought to sound realistic enough to counter-balance that. That’s what the first Godzilla movie tried to do. After that, filmmakers adopted the opposite strategy; so that everything else in the subsequent sequels had so many outrageous absurdities, each so insanely stupid, that the monster in the middle was the most reasonable element by comparison.

Of course you’ve got a 30 story-tall sapient dino-lizard with a phaser-generator in it’s mouth. Why not? How else is it going to fight the equally enormous bipedal beetle with drill-bit arms? Especially now that it’s being mind-controlled by those aliens from another Japan in outer space. Someone needs to get those 3-inch tall identical twins to sing their song that wakes up the giant space bug. I don’t know what a 100-meter moth can do, but we need all the help we can get now that our toxic waste has come alive too!

I like Godzilla as much as the next guy. No, I like Godzilla more than the next guy!  Since I was a little kid, I watched all those absurd rubber-suit movies thinking how cool it would be if we remade Gojira as a big budget block-buster. They failed to do that in 1985, when they brought back Raymond Burr. They failed to do that in 1998, with Tristar’s GINO (Godzilla In Name Only) and I’m sorry to say that they failed again with the latest attempt.

The first problem was that it should have been a horror movie. It is actually possible to do that.  As a survivor of both earthquakes and tornados, I can explain exactly what that would be like. I once got a phone call saying that radar is tracking a twister headed straight for my house.  I looked out the front door, but couldn’t see the end of my driveway because of the torrential rain.  I knew there was a 400 foot-tall monster coming at me through the darkness, but I couldn’t see or hear it. All I could hear were were the warning sirens and distant screaming, both barely audible through the driving rain.  Having no defense or escape in that situation, I know exactly how frightening Godzilla could have been.

There is also the issue that the new Godzilla is fighting other kaiju. What makes this monster unique is that he’s far bigger than the biggest thing there ever was. So it doesn’t make sense to suddenly have a whole bunch of other things that are just as freakishly huge as he is. The ‘mutos’ he had to fight were beyond absurd just on their own, and they are part of the biggest problem this movie has.

The male muto starts out as a parasite on a fossil, even though it’s far bigger than anything that is actually known in the fossil record. Then it burrows underground (again grossly implausible for an animal that size) as a caterpillar which then has to build a nest in a nuclear reactor where it takes ten years of radiation absorption to gestate. Then it has to fly half way around the world to find a female. Within the female’s eggs, we can see spawn identical to the adults. No parasitic stage, no caterpillar stage, no gestation period. No one paid any attention to the biology of these ridiculous things that don’t match anything from this biosphere. Essentially it’s like Godzilla vs the alien monster from Cloverfield, because that’s very much what these things look like.

Godzilla 2014 missed the mark primarily because it is not an origins story.  Gojira was a monster of our own making.  Similarly Gino was supposed to impose nature’s response to our meddling.  But G2014 pre-existed genetic modifications and nuclear testing.  We have no responsibility for him, nor the mutos either. They come from a time that never was, millions of years ago, “when the world was much more radioactive than it is today”.  The story implies that mutos ‘eat radiation’. In the film, they can track it through every kind of protective shielding, and they eat nuclear devices like fruit -metallic peal and all. I guess millions of years ago, nuclear missiles grew on trees, and kaiju were common even though they’re absent from the fossil record -with only one top-secret exception.  As an advocate of science education with a deep interest in paleontology, and as someone who would rather see humans held accountable for what they do to their environment, this film was very disappointing.  As an atheist, it was even worse.

This is apparently now the church of Kaiju.

The star of the film not only has impossible dimensions and an inexplicable power, he is also immortal.  He’s been alive forever, and spends all his time sleeping. He awakens only he senses submarines or the arrival of other kaiju, because he has a mission to protect humanity.  G2014 put the ‘god’ in Godzilla. The director called him a god, and some of the characters in the movie describe him as a god too.  So he’s not a lizard, not a dinosaur, but one of the Lovecraftian great old ones like Cthulhu.  In a video I made years ago, I too joked about Godzilla being a god. But it was still somewhat disappointing to see him depicted that way.

However, just to end this on a high note. The new Godzilla movie is better than most of it’s predecessors. One of the worst things about G’98 was that Gino didn’t have a breath-weapon like every other Godzilla movie did. I took my boys to see G’14 in IMAX 3D as soon as it came out, and we didn’t yet know if this movie would have what the last one didn’t.  That scene -when the battle was on, and we finally saw those dorsal spikes light up, glowing blue; we knew what that meant, we knew what was coming, and my boys were already cheering. That was the money shot!

What’s with all this pointless posturing?

What is wrong with these fundie types that they think the way to challenge someone to debate is to insult them? When will they learn that all this huffing and bluffing and puffing up can’t work on someone like me?  And I mean, not on any level.  This guy thinks I’ll respond to him because he’ll call me a coward if I don’t. Really? Who does he take me for? Marty McFly?

He says I’m afraid of him. I’ve never even seen his face before this evening. I have heard of him though. All I heard was that he’s just another rude shit-talker who can’t comport himself. What would be the point then? I feel no obligation to argue with someone who just wants to spit stupidity at me, but can’t understand anything I try to explain back.  I have a goal in these discussions, and that is to make a point. I want a meeting of the minds, but guys like this just wants to butt heads.

So a few years ago, I posted my rule with regard to debate challenges: I won’t debate anyone who nominates himself. If you have a following, and they say that you represent them, that’s different, because beating you would mean defeating the idea you defend in the minds of those who look up to you. Even if I can’t convince you, maybe I can convince them. Either way, it’s a package deal and I think there would be some value in that.  Consequently, I’ve never had a formal debate yet. So far everyone I’ve ever argued this with by appointment was at the request of 3rd parties on someone’s radio show.

I do sometimes do written debates and archive them for posterity. I think there’s value in those discussions too.  This also shows how wrong G’man is right out the gate.  He accuses me of being afraid of, and hiding from, or otherwise avoiding TrueEmpiricism. But I’ve already walked on TrueEmpiricism as a matter of public record.  How could I be afraid of him?. There’s no possible threat there.

And that’s the biggest point:  If your position is a matter of make-believe, then you’ll act like a show of confidence trumps all else, when it really doesn’t mean squat, and such a person could still be intimidated by these types of challenges too.  I can’t.  Why? Because if accuracy and accountability are all that matter, then people like G’man could never pose any intellectual threat.  He still couldn’t even if he was right!  I do not hold my beliefs on faith like he does. So I’m not determined to defend that faith even if it’s wrong.  That’s THEIR way, not mine.  Why would I want to believe something that required faith, and wasn’t evidently true?  If some believer was actually right, I would want to find that out; I want to be right too!  So if he could actually show that he was right, I would still win, because I would have learned something. I would thank him for correcting me, and I could follow the new path.  But after decades of arguing with these people, and never meeting one who even understands his own position, let alone mine, then I know what to expect. Nothing -again. Just loud empty talk.  If you had a point to make, G’man, you’d have made it already.

Consider the Atheist

On May 5th, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court contradicted the Constitution, discarding both clauses of the 1st Amendment. Previously Congress could make no law respecting the establishment of religion, nor limiting the free exercise thereof. This ruling not only establishes a state religion, but it also forces non-Christians to bow their head to the Christian god as a requirement of doing government business.

This week, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court also overturned earlier rulings, such that the state may now force non-Christian students to recite the pledge of allegiance, including the phrase ‘under God’. This phrase was added to the pledge decades later, in 1957. As if it was not already bad to force someone to swear an allegiance, (which I will never do again) but the state can now also force non-believers to acknowledge an imaginary being as if they believe it is real.

Thus the state has established a religion, and at that moment they’re already violating human rights with it. There can be no freedom OF religion without freedom FROM religion, and the US has just proved that -again.This, for me was the end of America. My country has been increasingly sick all my life, but it has now finally died.

In recognition of this travesty, I want to share the words of Madelyn Murray O’Hair, founder of American Atheists, who warned us against this very eventuality. She saw it coming, and she tracked its stepped better than any single presentation I know of. Her speech needs to be heard by a larger audience.

How could it be that any Supreme Court justice could be so ignorant of history and so blinded by religion that these decisions were not unanimously of the opposite opinion?

What we must do now is follow the course of Ireland and England and the Scandinavian countries -where there is no separation of Church & State, but where the atrocities of religious rule have ruled themselves out, to the point that the populace has ruled religion out. These are, for the most part, effectively atheist countries now. This is what happens when religion is forced onto the populace; the people naturally eventually rebel against all forms of tyranny. And our foolish courts have just unbarred the gate and opened the doors to welcome in our new overlord.

dropping out of the Dogma Debate

I hardly blog at all. I think I’ve only posted about once per month sometimes, sometimes once per week at best.  I haven’t made many videos lately either, and there’s a lot of good ones I could be making, if I still had the time.  My book is more than a year behind schedule, and I’m still only on the 5th chapter, only about 1/3 done.  We have plans for two more books to follow this one, so I had better finish it.

The most important issue I have is time.  I have this double-life where I work at Initech Monday thru Friday, and once I’m off their clock, then I have to pick up the pace on everything else I do on my own. In large part, my life is chaos, trying to multitask amid constant interruptions distractions and errands that can’t be delegated. My schedule is such that there are only a few days every week when I can really be productive and Wednesdays are one of those days.  That being the case, I can’t justify spending essentially that whole day every week just talking on the radio. So some weeks ago, I decided to leave the show.

I want to thank all the 4th listeners who’s public comments and private messages have been so overwhelmingly positive.  I have gotten a lot of encouragement from you guys over the last year!  It’s my own fault that I let myself get involved in so many volunteer projects and petty time-wasting discussions online. It’s not going to get any easier either. In addition to serving as Texas State Director of American Atheists, I also expect to do some work for the Secular Coalition of Texas, and I’ll soon be involved in something even bigger. (to be announced)

So right now I need to focus. I’m going to take advantage of a lull in my current speaking schedule to get as much done on these other efforts as I can over the next couple months; sweep these tasks out of my way, get published, and be ready of the next wave that are already looming on my horizon.

How crazy is religion?

I’ve seen a number of posts and comments suggesting that religion should be treated as a mental illness. There certainly seems to be a strong correlation between religion and insanity. I’ve read a few papers comparing the logical and psychological aptitude of strong believers vs those with little or no faith at all, and the trends there all seem to be in our favor, but not to the point that religion causes the disorder.  I think certain mental disorders can prompt religious beliefs, but that’s a different claim.

I think religion provides a haven to conceal quite a lot of cognitive and psychiatric disorders as well as some social dysfunctions.  But that doesn’t mean religion is a mental illness, regardless how accurate analogies of the God virus might be. I think there are circumstances when religion can be treated as a psychological condition, especially when it is the result of detrimental conditioning, but I wouldn’t confuse that with a psychiatric malady, which (I think) would have to be physiological/chemical.

However someone attending one of the stops of the Unholy Trinity tour has apparently interpreted my presentation there differently than I had intended.

Just for clarification, I did not say that religion was a mental illness. I did say that creationism was a form of religious extremism, which it is; one which discourages rational cognitive functions whenever the subject comes anywhere near certain topic areas.  I also said that creationism is delusional, which it is, because the beliefs are persistent, false, and do not change when the facts contradict them.  I even said that thorough indoctrination of children into religion can permanently impair their ability to grasp and use logic, and that’s true too.

The colloquial definition of sanity is having sound reason, of being able to reason, and to be reasoned with, but creationism, (like many forms of religious extremism) employs apologetics which significantly impede that; it does so deliberately by design. In my speech, I explain a bit of how that is done. If you want to see more of how that is done, look up some of the religiously-motivated “faith-building” exercises promoted for use in homeschooling children of creationist parents. Show me what you find.