Equality Stops At The Border

I’ve been following, as best as an ignorant mollusk can, the analysis of the recent decisions by the Supreme Court to take on a couple of cases on same-sex marriage. Ed has done a great job dissecting the choice, and today the New York Times has a really useful sidebar on it. What I can’t wrap my head around, though, is that there appears to be a very real chance that same-sex marriage will be the law of the land… only in part of the land.

I just can’t see it happening. It’s just too… “a house divided against itself” springs to mind. So an encore, today, just because of the last line. I wrote this when New York passed SSM (which made me happy, cos I was married in NY). [Read more...]

Billy Joel Takes On Ray Comfort

Ed tells us of Ray Comfort’s new series, in which he takes on prominent atheists. My title is a nod to Ed’s “Ray Comfort takes on Billy Joel”. The following was written a few years ago at the old place (click through for context), but it seems appropriate now.

It’s an afternoon post on Pharyngula,
The regular crowd shuffles in
There’s a pretty good chance that some troll will come dance
And remind us we’re living in sin

He’ll say “Darwin is worshipped by Atheists”
He’s not really sure what that means
But he knows that you’ll find that the world was designed,
That designers made all of our genes

La la la, de de da
La la, de de da da da
Tell us a lie, you’re Bananaman,
Tell us a lie, or two
Cos we’re all in the mood for a belly-laugh
And you’ve got us laughing at you!

PZ is the host and proprietor,
So you know that there’s pretty good odds
You’ll see shocking opinions, both his and his minions’
And probably cephalopods

He says look at that beautiful octopus
And this shot of a sensuous squid
Though he won’t claim a fetish for things that are wettish
You wouldn’t be shocked if he did

La la la, de de da
La la, de de da da da
Tell us a lie, you’re Bananaman,
Tell us a lie, or two
Cos we’re all in the mood for a belly-laugh
And you’ve got us laughing at you!

Now Ray is a young-earth creationist
Who never had time for a life
And he wonders if maybe, he might have a baby,
If he could evolve him a wife.

And the Minions are arguing politics
As the Mollies are howling for beer
It’s a strange sort of virtual community
But it doesn’t get better than here

La la la, de de da
La la, de de da da da
Tell us a lie, you’re Bananaman,
Tell us a lie, or two
Cos we’re all in the mood for a belly-laugh
And you’ve got us laughing at you!

It’s a pretty good post for Pharyngula
It’s got science, and politics too
Cos there isn’t much quite like an internet fight
If you’ve got nothing better to do.

And the internet reeks of stupidity
And the blogosphere’s chock-full of dumb,
And I stare at my screen, and ask “what do they mean?”,
And then drink till my feelings are numb.

La la la, de de da
La la, de de da da da
Tell us a lie, you’re Bananaman,
Tell us a lie, or two
Cos we’re all in the mood for a belly-laugh
And you’ve got us laughing at you!

Happy Fechner Day 2012!

162 years ago today, Gustav Theodor Fechner awoke from a dream which would change his life, and the course of science itself. In his dream, Fechner had discovered the key to studying sensation and perception, the method to measure the mind itself. Of course we cannot simply turn up some switch and increase your awareness, or your sensitivity, or anything about your experience of the world; prior to Fechner’s dream, the only way to study your thoughts was… to think about them. Introspection, essentially. It could not be systematically controlled-indeed, the very thought of controlling the mind, that non-physical part of Descartes dualistic view of Man, was ludicrous.

But Fechner found a method that, in hindsight, was simplicity itself. He would vary the external stimulus systematically, and an observer would report whether a perceptual change was noticed. Can you tell the difference in brightness between this light and this one? Can you tell a difference in saltiness between this solution and this one? Can you tell a difference in weight between this cylinder and this one? By reducing the subject’s responses to a simple choice, and varying stimulus materials, Fechner could measure sensitivity and bias separately, and could determine both absolute thresholds (the dimmest light, quietest sound, lightest weight, that one can detect 50% of the time) and difference thresholds (how much brighter, louder, heavier, must a stimulus be in order for that difference to be detected) for a number of different sensations and stimuli.

And he found that our perceptions are describable by mathematical equations–initially a simple linear function (Weber’s Law), improved to a logarithmic function (Fechner’s Law), suggesting that just maybe our minds are not working under separate and distinct rules than our bodies. Fechner’s work laid the groundwork for the science of Psychophysics, and pretty much all of experimental Psychology owes a debt to his methodology.

For this Fechner Day, I am re-posting a portion of an older post, from February of 2008 (and which is well worth reading for the cool sciencey stuff). You will see why.

[...]

Parenthetically, I note with sheer joy the fact that the paper cites Fechner (1877). And it is relevant. How cool do you have to be, to have your work cited 131 years after you wrote it? As cool as Fechner, that’s how cool. Fechner more-or-less invented the science of psychophysics, managing to capture sensation and perception scientifically for the first time. And here he is, cited in a 2008 paper. On machines tasting espresso.

On second thought, that might be my problem right there. I am still impressed by Fechner, and I live in a world where machines can meaningfully taste coffee. Food… or espresso… for thought.

I have a machine to smell my coffee,
To see if it’s any good;
I asked it to make me the perfect cup,
But I think it misunderstood—
It analyzed alkaloids, sampled aromas,
Tried seventeen samples of beans,
Then told me I clearly had no taste at all:
I never was good with machines.

My pre-owned car has an onboard computer—
It measures my driving, you see.
I guess I don’t drive like the previous owner;
My car likes him better than me.
It spits out a spreadsheet of technical numbers—
I don’t know what much of it means,
Except that my car thinks it’s better without me:
I never was good with machines.

Of course, at my office, I have a computer—
The one I am using right now;
It laughs at my grammar and sneers at my spelling,
Although I’m not really sure how.
Just one tiny part of a cubicle farm
Where we’re packed like so many sardines—
Do we use computers, or do they use us?
I never was good with machines.

I’m worried that someday my household appliances,
Sitting at home on my shelves,
Finally realize there’s nothing I offer
That they can’t do better themselves.
They make better coffee, they get better mileage,
Their words rarely stink up their screens—
And I’ll be left out in the cold and the dark:
I never was good with machines.

Oh, Those Undecided Voters

There was a voter, undecided,
Though I cannot fathom why;
Perhaps a faulty compass guided
Him, as days and weeks flew by.
Friends would prod, and neighbors chided
“Such an indecisive guy!”
With rapt attention undivided
All would roll their eyes and sigh.
The networks parked where he resided
(Never was he camera-shy)
The interviews that he provided
Kept the ratings climbing high.

Today, as news-mobiles collided
In his yard, I caught his eye:
“If I decide”, the man confided,
“All these cameras say good-bye!” [Read more...]

Some Thoughts On Faith-Healing

… because I saw The Atheist Pig’s cartoon today. It takes something I don’t have to be able to convey so much in 4 panels with simple drawings.

Anyway, it reminded me of an old verse of mine:

(Every word of this is true.)

A friend of mine, some thirty years ago,
The eldest son, a farming family’s pride,
Was gone from school, about a month or so
Before we heard the truth—the boy had died.

He’d fallen from a tractor in a field,
Though whether he was dead first, we don’t know;
The coroner’s exam? Too late to yield
An answer; there was nothing it could show.

His parents tried to cure the boy with prayer–
They brought him home, and put their son to bed.
Devout and faithful, hope turned to despair;
It broke their hearts, admitting he was dead.

Their church—to whom they turn when times are rough—
Blamed them, and said they had not prayed enough.

Now, from the comments there, I have to include here another bit–I could edit it to make it a bit clearer, but I’d rather not take the time today.

oddly enough, what is bothering me right now is that I cannot remember his name. For some reason, that really saddens me. I remember his sister was named Sarah; I had a real crush on her. He had a younger brother too, who was also my friend; the younger brother was going to be the first in the family ever to go to college, until my friend died. The younger brother understood that it would now be his duty, as it was to be his brother’s, to stay and take over the running of the farm.Brother and sister both kept going to school for the month while their brother, my friend, lay dead in his bed. They simply did not talk about it; I am sure they must have been asked where he was. Perhaps they just said he was sick… it was 30 and a bit years ago, so details are fuzzy.This was a good family. Nobody deserves something like this, but it is particularly hard when the family is this good, and so reliant on their faith, and their church takes their devotion and uses it to crucify them.Podblack, you know that I am absolutely of the belief that one can be a skeptic and be religious. Skepticism is a process, not a result; the results you get from critical thinking will (and must) depend on the available evidence. This family was doing what they fully believed was right. They were not stupid; they were not gullible; they were not bad. They were fed lies, from people who had earned their trust.And dammit, he deserves for me to remember his name.

What I’m wondering today is, how many of us have some similar story, of a friend or relative? I lost an office-mate to ovarian cancer; toward the end, she got all sorts of advice, and took most of it (just in case), no matter how bizarre it seemed (“drink everything out of a blue glass”). My sister turns to her prayer groups (fortunately, also to her doctor) for her many illnesses.

With my friend, it was really by accident that we learned the truth; his family wouldn’t have broadcast the information. With my office-mate, you had to be close enough to be one of the people she opened up to (quick test–did she feel she had to put her scarf back on and cover her bald head? If so, you’ll never hear all the details) to know how many desperate cures she was willing to try, and how many more she turned down (she had no shortage of people telling her to quit chemo, but chemo is what bought her more years with her young son).

In other words, the cases we know about are not the full picture. But how many do we know? How many do you know?

How Did I Miss This?!?!?

Today was, I just found out moments ago, National Donut (or Doughnut) Day, here in the US. How I missed it, though, is easily answered: I spent most of the day waiting while cars were repaired, to the tune of more money that I would have hoped for. Blech.

So none of that! On to the donut (or doughnut) verse! [Read more...]

I Guess I’m Just Too Offensive

Near as I can tell, the good people at Christianpost.com deleted a comment because they didn’t like my verse.

Not my comment, mind you, so I can’t be certain. But I was following links, and have my suspicions. After the jump:

See, this story tells of a terrible tragedy miracle, in which four people died, but one survived.

Hannah Luce, daughter of Teen Mania founder Ron Luce, is continuing to improve as she recovers from a plane crash last Friday. She was the sole survivor among the five on board.

“The fact that Hannah is here with us is a miracle, and while I am overjoyed and so thankful to God that she’s here, I am also deeply saddened at the loss of Austin, Stephen, Garrett and Luke,” Ron Luce wrote Tuesday on his blog. “I can’t even begin to understand the pain their parents are feeling right now.”

It’s a terrible thing. At this point, I would be overjoyed to have my daughter survive, but I can’t quite wrap my head around people other than the parents calling it a miracle, claiming that God had a hand in saving one, without taking any blame for killing the other four. I have no qualms with the parents calling this a miracle–any port in a storm–but the commenters don’t have a stake, and if they are going to claim miracle, they can be expected to have that claim questioned.

And it seems they can and will delete posts that do question this miracle. Including, apparently, one that quoted one of my verses. The verse was about a previous miracle, a case in which a man survived a fall from a skyscraper, with only 10 broken bones (both legs, right arm, multiple ribs, vertebrae). His brother was killed in the accident. Come to think of it, it seems a very similar situation to this current tragedy miracle.

I always found it rather odd
When people think to credit God;
The doctors helped, at least a bit,
The rescue workers didn’t quit,
The strangers there, who saw him fall
And made the first responder call
So many people did so much
But still we see His Holy Touch–
You see, it seems the signs are there
That show this man has seen God’s care:
The shattered ankle, broken shin
The shards of bone that pierce through skin
The massive bleeding in his gut–
Yes, every fracture, every cut–
This is the way that God Above
Displays His omnipresent Love.
And just in case He’s still denied
Remember, this man’s brother died.
Such agony makes Man aware
Of just how precious is God’s care
And when Humanity forgets,
God has a way to hedge His bets:
He’ll find a patsy, just some guy,
Like this Moreno, way up high–
When disbelievers start to scoff
God simply pushes this guy off;
With bleeding, pain, and broken bone,
God shows us that we’re not alone,
With just a little Godly shove,
He gets a chance to prove His Love.

Hey, That’s Supposed To Be A Quill…

Entirely too busy grading to write anything of substance. But… one of my students’ papers reminds me of this older post (don’t ask how–I wouldn’t tell you anyway).

A slight change, from quill pen to tattoo needle, and reader Sheree has a fine looking cuttlefish all her own! A picture may be worth a thousand words, but I’m speechless.

Gorgeous. Click to embiggen.

If I ever got a tattoo, it would (duh) clearly be my Cuttlefish With Quill. But that won’t happen while I share a bed with Cuttlespouse.

National Day Of Prayer (No Thanks)

It’s time to raise our voice in prayer,
And pray to–well, there’s no one there.
No god to urge to do our bidding;
Go on and pray–just know you’re kidding.

It’s time to all sit on our asses,
And pray forgiveness for trespasses
(Or is that to forgive our debtor?
Who cares, as long as we feel better.)

It’s time we all embrace god fully,
Feel all righteous, good, and holy–
Or be some atheistic jerk,
Roll up your god-damned sleeves, and work!

It’s time to say “I do not care
To join you in this day of prayer.”
Sure, a day off looks like fun,
But there is work that must be done.

Our problems will not fix themselves
There is no god to send in elves
To do the work of human ranks
So… join, today, in prayer? No thanks.

First posted 4 years ago! My goodness, how time crawls!

Clues…

A small handful of commenters on my Rainbow Connection poll said they knew what I was getting after. Could be, actually. If you know me well, I’m pretty predictable. As a clue, a hint, to those people (and anyone else who wants to guess), I’ll refer back to a favorite verse, and my all-time favorite comment thread… after the jump: [Read more...]