A low standard for miracles

Lyle Jeffs, of the infamous polygamous Jeffs clan, has disappeared from house arrest. His lawyer has an explanation.

As this Court is well aware, Mr. Jeffs is currently not available to inform his counsel whether or not he agrees to the Continuance, she wrote. Whether his absence is based on absconding, as oft alleged by the Government in their filings, or whether he was taken and secreted against his will, or whether he experienced the miracle of rapture is unknown to counsel.

I’ve got to remember this excuse.

“Hello, officer. Oh, a bank was robbed in town? How sad.”

“That big pile of money I was rolling around in? No, that’s not from the bank. That was immanentized into existence by the divine will of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. He loves me very much.”

“Yes, my face might be on the security cameras, but that’s because the FSM is such a jolly prankster — He probably put it there for a laugh.”

“Bye! Hope you catch the robber!”

At least now I’ve got the name of a lawyer, Kathryn Nester, who will be happy to back up my defense.

What Zika does to fetal brains

It’s not pretty. The NY Times has published images of babies born with Zika-induced microcephaly, and whoa, but that virus really does a number on the developing cortex. Scientists are beginning to figure out how it’s disrupting development, and now there’s concern that even superficially unaffected children might have late-occurring deficits.

Dr. Levine said the images suggest that Zika is like a formidable enemy able to do damage in three ways: keeping parts of the brain from forming normally, obstructing areas of the brain, and destroying parts of the brain after they form.

With such a vicious and unpredictable virus, “it’s key to realize that Zika is more than microcephaly, that there’s a number of other abnormalities as they’ve shown in this paper, and its effects are going to be even more broad,” said Dr. Spong, whose agency has begun a study of what will ultimately be 10,000 babies born in Zika epidemic areas including Brazil and Puerto Rico.

Meanwhile, here in the US, our useless congress is frozen in stupidity, unable to act. Why? Because this problem requires management and screening by family planning groups, and all the Republicans can see is that funding rational responses to Zika will require the assistance of organizations like Planned Parenthood, and that one of the necessary options for affected women should be termination of the pregnancy. The research in Brazil is, in part, trying to find unambiguous criteria for diagnosing affected fetuses in utero, to eliminate false positives and to allow families to respond appropriately to the afflictions.

But we’ve got nitwits like Marco Rubio here.

Obviously, microcephaly is a terrible prenatal condition that kids are born with. And when they are, it’s a lifetime of difficulties. So I get it.

I’m not pretending to you that that’s an easy question you asked me. But I’m pro-life. And I’m strongly pro-life. I believe all human life should be protected by our law, irrespective of the circumstances or condition of that life.

No, it is an easy question. When you’ve got a fetus with a brain that’s been destroyed by a virus, you give the woman you plan to burden with the responsibility of caring it for the rest of its broken, diminished “life” the choice of what to do.

Some women will find that choice difficult, and I can respect that; others will find it easy. What’s wrong is that Rubio has to struggle with the question of whether women should have autonomy.

It’s actually a movie prophesying our future under Trump

We’re getting yet another dumb-as-dirt Christian movie: Torchbearer. It’s made by Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s brand new campaign advisor, and it ‘stars’ Phil Robertson, the Talibanesque asshole who is best known for selling duck calls and appearing in a reality TV show. How bad is it? You may not want to watch the trailer.

Firstly, it visually and emotionally assaults the viewer by lingering on gruesome images of violence and death, using reenactments and animation as well as the most graphic historical footage from Auschwitz and more recent images of victims of ISIS and Boko Haram being beaten, shot and burned to death. I would call the movie’s infliction of trauma gratuitous, but it seems a very purposeful act meant to provoke and inflame and generate a rage to war.

This is what this country has come to. And it’s so stupid: Robertson is an ignorant nobody, they’ve just concatenated a collection of horrible, unrelated images, and claimed that only being as fanatical about your fanatical Christianity as this fanatic will save you from those other fanatics. Meanwhile, they obliviously show prolonged scenes of Catholic and Lutheran Nazis committing atrocities under the rule of the Catholic Hitler, while blaming their actions on atheists.

“Apparitions”

Catholicism is weird. Every once in a while, stuff slips out that makes me think we’re dealing with aliens from another planet…like this discussion of how ‘apparitions’ are ‘approved’.

Many know about approved apparitions of our Blessed Mother. But only a handful realize that there were apparitions in Itapiranga, Brazil from 1994-1998 in which St. Joseph appeared along with Mary and Jesus.

In January 2010, after much study, prayer, reflection, observation and seeing the growth in the faith life of thousands, the local ordinary, Bishop Carillo Gritti declared a Decree of Worship favoring the Itapiranga appearances and in an earlier document called it of “supernatural origin.”

In another document he stated that considering the manifestations of the Virgin from 2005-10, who has called upon devotion to the three Sacred Hearts: Jesus, Mary and Joseph, a first step has been taken to build a new sanctuary with the certainty that it will be a place for pilgrimages, and the conversions that only God by the intercession of Mary can operate has been thus far for him and enlightened souls, reason enough to see in these visions and messages the finger of God (translated form the Portuguese).

It’s simply taken for granted that we know what these apparitions are, but apparently, all it is is that some guy had a vision of Mary and Joseph, and later his mom claimed to have seen them too. So now a bishop has declared that it is OK for you all to see particular ghosts, presumably without risk of being declared a heretic.

I do like the Catholic version of the scientific method: much study, prayer, reflection, observation and seeing the growth in the faith life of thousands. I don’t think observation means going to Itapiranga to have a conversation with old Joe’s shade, though; most likely it involved noting that church attendance is up, and counting up potential revenues from a new shrine.

I wanted to know more about this mysterious method for divining the truth from the claims of Catholic zealots, but instead the rest of the article goes on at tedious length about the wonderful imaginary virtues of the imaginary saint. Catholics do live in a rich fantasy world, that’s clear.

But I will commend the Catholics for one thing: they can write voluminously about St Joseph, yet they didn’t use the word cuck even once, which was a relief.

I agree with this guy

I don’t agree with the two guys on the other side of this debate, but Nasser Dashti, arguing that the Islamic world must become more secular, is spot on.

I believe that the time has come for us to adopt the secular, rational, scientific approach, and to remove religion from public life and confine it to the private sphere. Every person is free to understand his religion as he sees fit, and he is free to change his religion, to adopt any school of thought or religion, and to spread his ideas in keeping with the modern rules of human rights.

—Nasser Dashti

Maybe once the Middle East becomes secular, we can start working on fixing the USA in the same way.

Ben Carson always brings the weird

Carson spoke at the Republican convention last night, and of course it was bizarre.

He starts off with an announcement that he’s a proud asshole…that is, he declares that he’s not politically correct. You know, this PC thing was invented by assholes, to justify their persecution complex when they’re called out on being assholes, right?

Then he trots out his claim to credibility, which is that he was a brain surgeon, and treats this as a testimonial that he must be an expert on reason. I’ve dissected fish, I guess that means I know how to breathe underwater.

But then we get to the fun stuff: Carson accuses Hillary Clinton of Satanism, by way of that conservative boogey man, Saul Alinsky.

He wrote a book called Rules for Radicals. It acknowledges Lucifer, the original radical who gained his own kingdom. Now think about that. This is our nation where our founding document, the Declaration of Independence talks about certain inalienable rights that come from our creator, a nation where our Pledge of Allegiance says we are ‘One nation under God.’ This is a nation where every coin in our pockets and every bill in our wallet says, ‘In God We Trust.’ So are we willing to elect someone as president who has as their role model somebody who acknowledges Lucifer? Think about that.

It’s true! Everything he mentioned is a True Fact! Our money does have “In God We Trust” stamped on it, something that was done in the face of the Red Scare in the 1950s. The Pledge of Allegiance does say “One nation under God”…now. Again, that was an addition made in the 1950s. The authors of the Declaration of Independence included a bunch of freethinkers who included a vague mention of a Creator (but of course, elsewhere they carefully divorced themselves from any specific sectarian intention). And yes, Alinsky does include an epigraph that mentions Lucifer.

Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins — or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom — Lucifer.
—Saul Alinsky

But see, this is where reason comes into play. You can cite a hodge-podge of miscellaneous True Facts, but you have to use your reason to assemble them into meaning. And Carson uses these fragments of facts to imply that Satan is real, Hillary Clinton serves him, and that an imaginary superbeing will turn away from America if we don’t have “In God We Trust” jingling in our pockets, like sublime capitalist prayer wheels.

This makes no sense. This is unreason. Worse, it’s the conservative version of political correctness.

At least it’s nice to know I’ll be voting for Lucifer in November.

Meanwhile, in Kentucky…

This week, Nature has an article on the reconstruction of global tectonics during the past 200 million years.

a–c, Maps are separated by 10 Myr. The shapes of the large plates do not change much, whereas the adjustment of the small plates evolves quickly. d, 90 Myr after the first snapshot (a), the distribution of the large plates and smaller plates has evolved substantially. In a–d, the top panels show the viscosity of the mantle (colour scale); the bottom panels show the different boundary types (coloured lines) and plate sizes (shading) within the boxed regions in the top panels (which focus on longitudes between −30° and 90° and latitudes between −30° and 30°). The arrows indicate the direction and magnitude (represented by arrow length) of the mantle flow.

a–c, Maps are separated by 10 Myr. The shapes of the large plates do not change much, whereas the adjustment of the small plates evolves quickly. d, 90 Myr after the first snapshot (a), the distribution of the large plates and smaller plates has evolved substantially. In a–d, the top panels show the viscosity of the mantle (colour scale); the bottom panels show the different boundary types (coloured lines) and plate sizes (shading) within the boxed regions in the top panels (which focus on longitudes between −30° and 90° and latitudes between −30° and 30°). The arrows indicate the direction and magnitude (represented by arrow length) of the mantle flow.

In Science, we can read about a thorough analysis of a site where a mastodon was butchered by North American hunter-gatherers 14,550 years ago.

(A) Location of Page-Ladson in northwestern Florida. (B) Map of the Page-Ladson underwater excavations, showing the entire sinkhole and previous excavation areas, as well as excavation areas and sediment cores reported in this paper. Core 4A is marked with a blue star. Other cores are marked with blue circles. Previous excavations are marked with yellow. Our excavations are marked with red. Contours are in meters below datum. (C) Detailed map displaying the location of bones (gray), drawn to scale, and artifacts (black) recovered from geological Units 3a to 3c and 4a to 4b

(A) Location of Page-Ladson in northwestern Florida. (B) Map of the Page-Ladson underwater excavations, showing the entire sinkhole and previous excavation areas, as well as excavation areas and sediment cores reported in this paper. Core 4A is marked with a blue star. Other cores are marked with blue circles. Previous excavations are marked with yellow. Our excavations are marked with red. Contours are in meters below datum. (C) Detailed map displaying the location of bones (gray), drawn to scale, and artifacts (black) recovered from geological Units 3a to 3c and 4a to 4b

.

And of course, the big news, scientists have put a probe in orbit around Jupiter.

junoart

Meanwhile, in Kentucky…

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My one true talent at #cvg2016 is being annoying

I was on this panel at the con yesterday, and while we were all civil and polite, I think my fellow panelists, and a few members of the audience, were left feeling a bit peevish. It was the “What Does God Need With a Starship?” panel, and here’s the description.

From the Christ-like figure of Superman to the metaphysical adventures of the Enterprise, fantasy and science fiction have long explored religious and philosophical questions. What is it about SFF that touches our spirituality?

It was fun. I was the odd person out of the group, I think, because I disagree with everything.

The first question came from the moderator, and it played right into my hands, because it was the first thing I would have asked: what the heck is this “spirituality” thing? We got a couple of answers from the other panelists: one was that spirituality is a container for their “love of all people”, which is a wonderful thing to feel, but I had to point out that that’s humanism. God and the supernatural are redundant there. Another answer was that it was a feeling of “connectedness to all things” — well, great. Except that this universe is the domain of science, not religion.

I also pointed out that religion has a tendency to steal credit: there is a lot of good science fiction that explores philosophy and ethics, and that religious people like to turn around and claim that that is “religion”: nope. It’s philosophy and ethics. That you assume all discussion of morality is grounded in god-belief doesn’t make it so.

The other panelists had their revenge, though, and there was a long bit where they were cooing over those wonderful Narnia books by C.S. Lewis, an author I thoroughly detest, and because I’m obnoxious but not that obnoxious I had to chew on my tongue for a while. I did at least state that the open allusions to Christian mythology were not a feature, they were a bug, and they interfered with my ability to trust anything in the books. Crappy fictional plot holes are not rescued by coupling them to crappy religious plot holes.

One discussion that was unresolved but was interesting was the role of science fiction in demythologizing religion — how it could act as a gateway for people with a religious upbringing to explore new ideas and possibly adopt a less restrictive faith. I then learned that there is a whole genre of Christian science fiction which is supposed to go the other way: it draws in secular people and plants the seeds of faith. I’d never even heard of the latter category — I guess CS Lewis did some of that, but he’s the only one I know of — so I don’t think it was very successful, in my case.

I am not done being annoying, though. My next panel today is “Our Place in Space” at 2:00.

What are the dreams and practicalities of colonizing space? How might humanity reach beyond our planet? We’ll discuss the science of human spaceflight in reality and fiction.

My position is that we humans will not be colonizing space, ever. We might build robots that will, though.