Oscar the Grouch: “I Hate Christmas”

Christmastime is wonderful, when people remember that it’s a time for friends, family and celebrating away the winter blues, rather than proselytizing and prostrating yourself before an imagined deity and generally making others uncomfortable with believing what is, in your view, the “wrong things”. I’ve had more than my fair share of sniping from people this season, with co-workers asking if I celebrate, WHY I celebrate, and one even wishing me a “happy… uh, atheist-ish-ness?”

I’m going to say this exactly this once. Christians stole and co-opted a holiday that pre-dated them, so they don’t have a corner on celebrating at exactly this time of year, nor do they have the right to get sanctimonious on people who don’t believe in Jesus when they see them participating in holiday cheer and goodwill to all men.

We are not Oscar the Grouch. FYI.

Happy science!

Here’s a few sciencey links to restore your faith in humanity. I need it myself.

So, what would help restore said faith? Is medicine your bag? Well, genetic scientists have made a major breakthrough in cancer research involving having sequenced skin and lung cancer, identifying the specific mutations in DNA duplication that result in those forms of cancer in the presence of specific mutagens (e.g. tobacco smoke or ultraviolet radiation in those that are susceptible). Since a “cure for cancer”, generically, isn’t going to happen, considering all the mutagens we have a habit of pumping into the atmosphere and all, this at least is an excellent step toward being able to identify and fix individual instances. And that’s not the only blight on humanity that modern medicine is making inroads against, where a potential vaccine against AIDS is showing some promise in a number of trials.

If beauty is your thing, the universe is filled with it. For instance, over at Bad Astronomy, an amateur astronomer made an animation of Mars using a small personal scope. Or, you can check out some planetary systems forming in the Orion nebula over at NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Or perhaps evolutionary biology? Such as the discovery of a rudimentary syntax in Campbell’s monkeys — in other words, a language. This could indicate that one of the criteria people use to indicate humanity is somehow unique and “designed”, is in actuality common in the animal kingdom.

And the scientific blogosphere’s personal William Tockman wrote a book-length post on how he’d go about writing a book about countering the “unscientific nation”. I have to include it because there’s something just so delicious about that level of meta.

I hope this eliminates some of the blog burn-out I’ve been feeling lately, and I hope it has a similar effect on you, my dear readers.

Hot air

Global warming is a reality, whether folks want to admit it or not, as the only scientific debate about it presently is, “how bad will it be?” So, outreach at this point is the most important effort that can be undertaken, being that people with vested interests in sowing misinformation keep taking in otherwise rational and logical people and breeding uncertainty while the vast majority of scientists keep saying “uh, guys, we’re pretty damned certain over here.”

The thing is, education isn’t the only reason for outreach — people need to be made aware that we’re actively putting off making this planet better in a number of ways, on the off chance that we happen to accidentally cut into some of those aforementioned vested interests’ profit margins. Here’s a beautiful rant that ain’t just hot air, that makes this exact point.

Oh no, the Terror Alert has been raised to “Con-Job” Orange!

Did you ever have any doubts that the Terror Alert system was just a ploy to ratchet up fear so as to win elections? Well, you should have, because it also turns out the CIA was conned into a lot of those fear-eliciting alert incrementings.

A self-styled Nevada codebreaker convinced the CIA he could decode secret terrorist targeting information sent through Al Jazeera broadcasts, prompting the Bush White House to raise the terror alert level to Orange (high) in December 2003, with Tom Ridge warning of “near-term attacks that could either rival or exceed what we experience on September 11,” according to a new report in Playboy.

The report deals another blow to the credibility of the Department of Homeland Security’s color-coded terror alert system, and comes after Ridge’s claim that the system was used as a political tool when he was DHS secretary.

Okay, so it WAS used as a political tool, acording to Tom Ridge. But it was ALSO manipulated by con-men for money (and I don’t just mean Darth Cheney).

Read more at TPM Muckraker.

Formspring – “Just what do atheists believe in?”

I jumped on the Formspring.me bandwagon and set myself up an account where people can ask me questions anonymously. It’s in the left sidebar, as well. I’ll be syndicating some interesting ones here as well as on my Twitter / Facebook accounts.

The first serious question I got was a pretty broad one, so it got a bit of a big answer. I’ll put it below the fold.

[Read more...]

RCimT: Lazy Sunday

I’m going to do a very brief Sunday catch-up — not because I have any specific plans, but because I’m feeling the need to have a lazy day today.

Amazingly, only 14.6% of philosophers are theists. This despite theism dealing directly with philosophy! This implies that the vast majority of theists do not actually “think about” the big questions. Considering personal experience, this isn’t honestly a surprise. If you’re looking for philosophy, you’d probably want to visit DuWayne’s place over, say, Zdenny’s, anyway, considering he’s obviously incapable of philosophy.

An insightful article over at Atheist Revolution explores how Christians have accidentally secularized Christmas, in an attempt at getting their specific beliefs institutionalized. Hoisted by their own petards, methinks.

The Catholic Church has apparently succeeded in scaring distributors away from His Dark Materials, so those of you that enjoyed the movie version of The Golden Compass are probably up for a very, VERY long wait before the next movie. Sigh. So why exactly do Catholics get to force their morality on us, such that the only movies we get to see are Catholic-approved ones?

Mike Haubrich cross-posted Asking Clarifying Questions over to Quiche Moraine while his blog at Tangled Up in Blue Guy is temporarily locked down. Just in case any of you were looking to get at last week’s Sunday RCimT links.

I just discovered Bailey the Bookworm put up a separate blog for her adventures in atheism. I can’t handle multiple blogs, personally… I can barely keep up a one-post-a-day schedule at the one place I have now!

News flash: even more evidence that the Shroud of Turin, having been made in 1600CE to fool some theist king, can’t possibly be Jesus’.

Ophelia Benson answers “is the aggressiveness of New Atheism a turnoff for women?”. Considering she’s both a woman and a so-called “New Atheist”, she’s obviously eminently qualified to answer the question.

Daylight Atheism has an ongoing debunking of The Case for a Creator. I don’t know why anyone would bother with debunking the book, since it’s a total non-sequiteur to say “here’s how science is flawed, therefore the Judeo-Christian god Yahweh is obviously the answer” when you could just let all the religions duke it out and stay above the fray to inherit this blasted Earth after they’re all done warring with each other. Oh, that’s right, because we atheists understand that this Earth is the only one we get, and we kinda want to protect it.

Now, I have to go enjoy my day off. Have an unblessedly lazy Sunday, folks!

Holy shit, dark matter (possibly)!

There’s a one-in-four chance that two particles detected in a science project based in a deep mine in Minnesota may have detected dark matter — the stuff from which matter itself is likely derived, and that which is theorized to be responsible for the structure and shape of the universe as we know it. This is epic win, if so, as it pretty much proves (e.g. acts as strong supporting evidence for) the standard theoretical model of cosmology.

“If they have a real signal, it’s a seriously big deal. The scale on which people are looking for dark matter is vast,” said Gerry Gilmore at Cambridge University’s institute of astronomy. “Dark matter is what created the structure of the universe and is essentially what holds it together. When ordinary matter falls into lumps of dark matter it turns into galaxies, stars, planets and people. Without it, we wouldn’t be here,” Gilmore said.

If this is real, it will kickstart the field of particle physics in a big way. So exciting!