Just another murder in Bangladesh

Another intellectual, a professor of English, Rezaul Karim Siddiquee, was hacked to death in Bangladesh for the crime of being an atheist. The twist here, though, is that he wasn’t an atheist at all.

But according to his daughter, Rizwana Hasin, 23, he was not an atheist.

Siddiquee participated in cultural activities and wanted to open a music school in nearby Bagmara.

“He loved music. A concept is growing in Bangladesh these days that those who are interested in music, culture, are not believers in religion,” she told CNN.

First they come for the atheists, an easy target. Then they go after the artists, the poets, the writers, the musicians, the poets because they love the world too much and are not sufficiently fanatical. Then the teachers and other educators. This is one way to change the culture to make everyone believe as you do: chop down everyone who isn’t as ignorant as you are.

The future Bangladesh of their dreams will contain only people who know how to pray and how to use a machete, nothing more.

Something in this poster reminded me of home

Except…the text is disturbing. It’s on the wrong side of the continent. Read this story of a common occurrence around Puget Sound.

narrows_tentacle

Douglass Brown was 15 when he saw a giant tentacle emerge from Puget Sound.

He was in Tacoma, walking down the beach with a girl he liked. Then he looked out at the water.

“I see this arm come out of the water. It was 10, 15 feet in the air,” Brown says. “It looked like an octopus or something like that, and I just took off running.”

I can so imagine walking along the beach with my girl when I was that young, and enjoying the aquatic wildlife. Except that I can’t imagine running — that’s the part where you hold each other a little closer, and sigh romantically.

(Also, I think the “10, 15 feet” part is a gross exaggeration. “Inches,” maybe. But then, one does tend to inflate in those situations.)

Soon, I shall be rich and famous!

All I have to do is follow the formula. Julia Serano explains How to Write a “Political Correctness Run Amok” Article, and it’s very detailed. At last, I shall be published by the New York Times or some other establishment organ that loves those stories about how universities and their students have become too PC and need to sit down and shut up and respect noisy assholes with lots of money, no matter what they say.

At last, a sensible perspective on aging

cells-aging

The world is full of naive people who think we’re going to be immortal some day soon, in spite of all the evidence that says no (Kurzweil is a prominent example of such techno-optimism, as is Aubrey de Grey). It’s not just bad biology, it’s also bad physics, as Peter Hoffman explains. We’re all made of parts that are constantly being battered by thermal energy as an essential part of their operation, and damage accumulates until…we break down. This is unavoidable.

If this interpretation of the data is correct, then aging is a natural process that can be reduced to nanoscale thermal physics—and not a disease. Up until the 1950s the great strides made in increasing human life expectancy, were almost entirely due to the elimination of infectious diseases, a constant risk factor that is not particularly age dependent. As a result, life expectancy (median age at death) increased dramatically, but the maximum life span of humans did not change. An exponentially increasing risk eventually overwhelms any reduction in constant risk. Tinkering with constant risk is helpful, but only to a point: The constant risk is environmental (accidents, infectious disease), but much of the exponentially increasing risk is due to internal wear. Eliminating cancer or Alzheimer’s disease would improve lives, but it would not make us immortal, or even allow us to live significantly longer.

The article points out that we can accurately model mortality with only a few general parameters, and they’re rather fundamental and physics-dependent — we can tweak the biology as much as possible, but the underlying physical properties are going to be untouchable.

I would add, though, that while the mortality curves he shows are inevitable, biology can stretch and contract them, and we do have measurable variation in different species that shows that there is a kind of scaling factor to the curves in biological diversity — it’s not as if every species that lives at the same average temperature have identical life expectancies! Even within the human species, there are genetic variants that affect longevity, and clearly different life-style choices influence mortality, even though we’re every one of us ticking along at roughly the same 37°C. So please, yes, we can reduce the incidence of heart disease and cancer, and get a longer average lifespan…but even if we were to eradicate those major causes of mortality, we’re all going to get up around the century mark, and then we’re going to plummet off a cliff because of all the accumulated cellular damage and declining physiological efficiency.


By the way, one odd thing when I tried to find an illustration to accompany this post: I searched on “aging”. Almost all the photos on the web illustrate women by a huge margin. I am forced to conclude that only women suffer from the ravages of age; men simply get mature. But at least it’s one topic that women get to dominate!

Evangelical Christianity: a movement built on hypocrisy, by the worst people in the country

Samantha Bee gives a history lesson, and as always, evangelical Christianity has been on the wrong side of history, and for the worst reasons, and under the leadership of some of the most awful, terrible, horrible people. It’s also telling that they have so consistently rejected the people who espouse positive Christian values (like Carter) to support scum (like Reagan). At least nowadays they’re reduced to choosing between scum (Cruz) and scum (Trump), and they still favor the least Christian, and most bigoted choice.

I also have to note that two of the most scathing critics of modern American politics, Bee and Wilmore, are also the kind of people these conservative Christians would love to oppress.

Please don’t, Bill Maher

Here comes another misbegotten idea from an obnoxious atheist. Bill Maher wants to make another documentary about religion. He wants to call it The Kings of Atheism. Yes. That’s all we need. Another atheist praising an elitist, authoritarian mindset in support of the status quo.

He really doesn’t get it.

Et ses mains ourdiraient les entrailles du prêtre,
Au défaut d’un cordon pour étrangler les rois.

No gods, no masters.

The man is completely tone-deaf. I felt that way about his previous movie, Religulous, too. But he might have a popular formula there, since a lot of atheists seem to be looking for secular priests to lead them.

I should have warned John Horgan

He gave a talk at a skeptics’ conference, and he called them out on their screwy priorities. You do not question movement skeptics on the importance of fighting Bigfoot.

The references to “Bigfoot” in the headline above and text below were inspired by a conversation I had with conference Emcee Jamy Ian Swiss before I went on stage. He asked what I planned to say, and I told him, and he furiously defended his opposition to belief in Bigfoot.

I can picture this — I’ve seen Swiss in Indignant Fury mode.

[Read more…]

I’m already sick of politics

At least Charles Pierce is an oasis of sensible punditry. The violence this weekend in Nevada by Sanders supporters has me exasperated in the same way he is.

That being said, this whole mess was over four freaking delegates, and the Sanders people should know better than to conclude what has been a brilliant and important campaign by turning it into an extended temper tantrum.

I voted for Bernie Sanders. I even wrote about why I did here at this very shebeen. But if anybody thinks that, somehow, he is having the nomination “stolen” from him, they are idiots.

I understand what’s going on. Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been a catastrophe: as Pierce puts it, she’s been trying to “grease the skids” for Clinton, a maneuver that was as unnecessary as it was divisive. Clinton has a solid lead, she’s 99.9% certain to get the nomination, and all Schultz has accomplished is to fuel a feeling that the electoral process is rigged. And now some Sanders supporters are rightfully outraged at the betrayal of the process, and becoming irrationally unhinged over a trivial number of nominees.

There are also people calling for Sanders to step out of the race. I don’t think he should; I want him pushing back every step of the way. But at the same time, he needs to slap down these idiots.

Also, if anyone needs to get out of this election, it’s Schultz. Don’t even talk about booting Bernie Sanders until Debbie Wasserman Schultz gets the heave-ho.

Atheists vs. Theists

Back in the dim, distant past, I dispatched some of you to participate in a survey of atheists and theists. The data has come back now, and who knows, maybe you’re a few bits in this data set.

You’ll have to order the book to see the whole thing, but there were a few tidbits. You weirdos really do have some different perspectives than the god-believers, unsurprisingly.

atheistsvstheworld

We’re different, but that’s OK, because we’re also right.

#ParadigmSymposium: Why?

aliensguy

I’m back from the Paradigm Symposium, and one question I get is “Why do you waste your time with such crackpots?” Trust me, I was asking myself the same question while sitting there! So I thought I’d take a moment to explain why I subject myself to a weekend of torment.

  • Responsibility. We should know the actual views of the people you are opposing. This is why I visited the Creation “Museum”, why I’ll go to the Ark Park sometime after it opens, why I attended church services last summer, and why I attend creationist lectures when they come to Morris. I force myself to go because if I want to criticize, I have to know what I’m criticizing.

  • Curiosity. This is also an important reason — don’t you wonder what the crackpots are saying? There’s also a bit of morbid fascination at play, since it’s often like watching a train wreck. But honestly, I do want to know what their arguments are. What is their reasoning?

  • Humanizing. It’s really easy to think of The Other as subhuman, especially if you never engage with them. It’s important to be able to see people with different ideas as people like you, so I go to remind myself that the people at these things are not drooling monsters. They are ordinary, they are our neighbors, they share an interest in the universe with me.

  • Self-awareness. I go to many atheist/skeptic meetings with enthusiastic audiences; have you ever heard an atheist attendee declare, with relief, that they are so happy to be in a friendly environment, with people who think like they do and won’t disdain their ideas? I have, many times. We generally think that is a positive benefit of getting together in a community. Guess what? People at wacky paranormal conferences say exactly the same things! They are just the same as our meetings! Except for the content.

    This is why I sit quietly and respectfully through the Paradigm Symposium. I appreciate that atheist meetings serve a community purpose, I have to respect that it serves a similar purpose for other fringe elements, and that I should not be disruptive of that part of the gathering. (And yes, think about that: atheists are as fringey as conspiracy theorists and alien astronaut believers in the common culture, maybe more so.)

  • Community. We primates are enthusiastic participants in community. What are we looking for? It’s good to see others pursuing similar social goals, even if their commitment to rationality is weaker, and ask “What works for them? Why are they doing it?” We may have different goals, but the business of building bonds of cooperation is universal.

    Sad to say, one thing I’ve learned is that Alien Astronaut proponents form a community that is just as diverse and just as dysfunctional as atheism. What seems to work for them is a willingness to incorporate any nonsense into their belief system (“I believe in angels. You believe in space aliens. I think we can reconcile this by accepting that aliens are angels.”) I also see signs that being an outcast in their more traditional communities drives them together, which also fits with the atheist experience. I want us all to break away from the idea that we need persecution to bring us together, though.

  • Education. These people are seriously wrong, and are using a tragically erroneous method for figuring out how the world works. Can I find ways to get through to them?

    I don’t have a good answer for that one. It’s clear that just hammering them with the facts — pointing out that their view of evolution, for instance, is completely wrong — is not sufficient. They have a set of other needs, such as their belief that the universe has a purpose, that there are necessary functional connections between every event, and that they are uniquely special which inform their willingness to accept a sloppy stew of all kinds of nonsense, from the Bible to von Däniken to chemtrails. Tackling individual misconceptions are a small part of what we need to do; more important is to address bigger differences in their world view. Conspiracy theories are appealing because they affirm their belief that everything is interconnected with a web of causality. Genetic tinkering by aliens is attractive because they want to be told there is a purpose for the way they are, and the way the world works.

Attending this event was worthwhile for me for the above reasons. It was most definitely not worthwhile for the content, which was freakin’ distilled lunacy. But these are my fellow human beings, and I want to see where these beliefs come from, and how they survive.

And one thing I can say is that the people at these events are mostly harmless in any direct way. They hold beliefs that do indirectly cause harm to our culture, but otherwise, they’re nice, friendly people who aren’t there because they hate someone. If I really wanted to see the malicious side of a human community, I’d attend a Trump rally. I don’t have the fortitude for that.