A pretty fantasy

I like the sentiment, but…

Jesus probably didn’t exist, and if he can be said to be modeled after some first century Jewish rabbi, he would almost certainly have been virulently concerned with controlling people’s sexual lives…and would have regarded homosexuality as an abomination. Also, there’s no afterlife, so he isn’t lounging about in heaven moaning about our bad behavior on earth. Also, Freddie Mercury is, regrettably, dead and no longer exists: no afterlife, remember.

This has been a clarification from your friendly godless party-pooper.

But otherwise, yeah, nice.

No One Is Good but One?

Ken Ham is chortling over those silly atheists and their National Day of Reason. No One Is Good but One, he says. It’s the standard Christian anti-human self-loathing crapola that insists we need a tyrant in the sky to tell us what is good.

There is only one absolute standard by which anyone can determine what is “good,” and that is from the absolute authority who is all “good”—God! Outside of such an absolute standard, “good” is whatever you want to make it to be (if you can get away with it)—it is totally subjective. Some people think it is “good” to steal, for instance. When a culture abandons the absolute standard for what is “good” (as this culture is progressively doing in throwing out God’s Word), then we will see people doing what is right in their own eyes—as we are increasingly experiencing. The recent announcement by the president of the USA in support of “gay” marriage is just one such example—he abandoned the absolute standard for what is “good” and now is wanting to impose his subjective opinion on the nation.

Unfortunately, this God-thing doesn’t seem to be able to tell us all about this goodness: it all seems to be filtered through a cacophony of self-styled prophets and mutually contradictory holy books. It’s pointless to tell me there’s an absolute standard, but that I don’t get to see it.

Also, atheist morality is not totally subjective. We can ask ourselves what works for the majority of people: what rules and behaviors minimize conflict, maximize productivity and happiness, and produce stable, long-lasting societies that get along well with others. We do have a standard — a human standard, one that is real and measurable.

I think it is entirely rational to see that about 10% of our nation is discriminated against and treated unfairly, and to make changes in our policies that promote equality and make that 10% happier. Especially since those changes do no harm at all to the other 90%.

And then I look at the absolute morality that Ham proposes should rule our nation, and see that its solution to those 10% is to stone them to death, and I think, “I think I can objectively determine that making people happy is good, and killing them is evil, because I value humans, not voices in hateful people’s heads.” And I conclude that Ken Ham is a wicked cretin.

Also, coincidentally, I notice that NonStampCollector has a new video on a similar point.

Ken Ham says we must obey the Bible literally, in every word. In Exodus 21, the Bible clearly and unambiguously says “Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death.” So, I want to know: in his ideal world based entirely on Biblical morality, when his neighbor mows the lawn on Sunday afternoon, would Ken Ham kill him? Or just gather a group of his friends and kill him in a communal exercise? And would they wait until Monday to do it?

Would that be moral?

At least Bill Donohue has been poked savagely

The divorced Bill Donohue is in full-blown apoplexy over Obama’s tepid support for gay marriage.

I want the law to discriminate against straight people who live together — I used to call it shacking up, now it’s called cohabitation — I want the law to discriminate against all alternative lifestyles, against gays and unions.

Donohue’s argument against gay marriage is that it would open the door to all kinds of abominations…like brother and sister marriages, for which he cites a case in the courts. He asks the other guest on the show if he approves of that.

You know, if I were asked that question, I’d say…yeah, it ought not to be against the law. My personal squeamishness about how two people relate to one another ought not to be legally enforced; I’m sure there are people who consider what my partner and I do in the bedroom to be utterly disgusting, and I don’t think anyone should have to defend their private, consensual preferences to a team of strangers. I think prospective sibling marriages ought to be confronted with extensive genetic counseling, at the very least, and I might be willing to consider limiting the reproductive rights of such a relationship (because it would bring a third person into it, who does not deserve the potential genetic afflictions that can result from inbreeding) as reasonable, but otherwise…it’s not my place to police what other people do.

That answer would probably turn Donohue purple.

I have a song for you, Bill. Perhaps it will soothe your furrowed brow and bring your blood pressure down a few points.

Egypt shows respect for the dead

The Islamist-dominated Egyptian parliament is considering a law that allows a husband to have sex with his dead wife within the six hours following her death. Why? I don’t know. I guess if you think women are pieces of meat then it doesn’t much matter if they’re responsive or not. Although I think six hours is overly generous: rigor mortis is going to set in after 3 or 4 hours, maybe sooner in a warm climate. Maybe they should modify the law so you’re allowed to have sex with her corpse for three hours, and then you’re allowed to use her body as a surfboard for another twelve hours after that?

Oh, and they’re also considering legalizing marriage to 14-year-old girls and stripping divorce rights from women. The way they’re jumping up and down on women, I’m beginning to think they have delusions that they’re American Republicans.

(via B&W)

Adding space dinosaurs can draw attention to your sins

That ridiculous paper that postulated alien dinosaurs has another flaw, to the detriment of an otherwise well regarded researcher: Ronald Breslow has been accused of self-plagiarism. It seems to be true, too; examples show that he has been recycling substantial chunks of text in multiple papers.

I guess that’s how the big names can generate those impressive publication lists: they just recycle each paper a few dozen times.

Why privacy matters

We missed out. This iPhone app, Girls Around Me, has been yanked from the Apple store. It was a geolocation based mapping application that created a google map of your current location, and then checked in with facebook to find all the women who had done any social networking in that area. Then it tracked through their data to post pictures of them on the map.

Isn’t that sweet? All you women were made public targets for a kind of weird hunting game. I presume you are all now logging into facebook and trying to sort through the arcane tangle of options to limit access.

In case you’re thinking this was an app designed for creepy stalkers, though, you’ve got it all wrong. It’s the opposite of stalking. The designer has said that the purpose of the app was to allow his bros to avoid the ugly girls.

Doesn’t that make you feel so much better now?

Decisions of conscience

I just got this email today from a major in the military. I am gratified that I helped someone think for themselves and make a conscientious decision…but I suspect it was more his experiences and his own considerations that led him to this point.

Prof. Myers,

A while back you wrote a blog post that may have catalyzed a major life decision for me. My life will be definitely be changing because of it, whether for the better or not remains to be seen but I wanted to thank you. You wrote a post dealing with realities of war, specifically on killing. I won’t bore you with the details about how exactly it affected me but rather just to that it very strongly moved me and upset me deeply. I have decided to stop killing because of it. I indirectly caused deaths in a military mission maybe 8 years ago (though I’m not sure , I relive the scene so vividly and often that it might as well been last week). As I did it I didn’t really think of much other that making sure I executed the task well and I remember being nervous in that respect and then just elated that the other guys didn’t succeed at their task of killing me. Months afterwards it started to sink in and I felt sick. About 4 years ago I killed again but it was not so indirect. I had pulled the trigger myself, ending 2 lives directly and helped with a few more that day as well. I was in zero danger of harm myself and maybe that’s why it affected me different. Nausea hit quickly (minutes), then depression/anxiety/nightmares. The weight of it just kept coming down and down more and more until I had to begin to rationalize to keep it from overwhelming me. I did a pretty good job of it until your post snapped the flimsy shell and ruined what I had carefully constructed over the years. I realized that I can choose my own fate and not have to choose between following orders/accomplishing the mission and being true to my ethics. I’ve decided to separate from the military after 12+ years service and come the end of June I will be a civilian. I’ve carefully thought the decision through and weighed the pros and cons. Believe me, giving up that military retirement was not terribly easy (it’s so much money) but, I keep thinking of the idea that I may be called upon to kill again in the next 8 years and no amount of money is worth it. Thank you for helping me break through my self delusion. I enjoy your blog and I think you should know that while you may not get through to everyone, you are doing good (IMHO) during your short stay on planet earth.

It sounds to me like he was being human, and aware of it.

My correspondent did not say, but it might have been my Shades of Gray post.

Our illness is their profit

Have you ever walked around an 19th century (or earlier) graveyard? It gives you a depressing snapshot of the old reality: so many young women dead in childbirth, so many children reaped by diseases. We’ve been fortunate, we residents of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, that so many of those lethal conditions are treatable, and we’re mostly able to live without fear of our children dying in our arms. But here in the United States, we may have been living in a brief window of time in which treatments are both available and affordable, and are moving into an era where they’re available, but only the lucky top few percent are actually available to take advantage them.

I’m one of those lucky ones: I’ve got a good secure job with adequate health insurance. I had my own little health scare a year and a half ago, and I obediently marched into the hospital for a full battery of the most up-to-date treatments, and I walked back out with almost all of the expenses fully covered by my insurance. I could even urge everyone to get checked out at the slightest twinge. But this isn’t true for everyone.

Take, for example, Kevin Zelnio: a smart guy with an advanced degree, working as a writer and scientist-at-large, relatively young and healthy, with a young family — and he’s uninsured, like almost 50 million Americans. When they get a cough or a nagging ache, they can’t just go to the doctor to get it checked out, to prevent something more severe developing. Even the most basic and most essential of preventive medicine is prohibitively expensive.

When I started my family 6 years ago, I was on a path to a career in research and teaching. We had amazing health insurance through my institution and my wife and children-to-be were generously covered, no-questions-asked by the state of Pennsylvania during, and a year after, the pregnancies. We never saw a bill. After I got “real jobs” upon completing my Masters degree, I entered a grey zone of contract teaching and research employment at universities. With a decent, regular salary we were ineligible for state aid, yet didn’t make enough to afford extra costs. Furthermore, the quality of the insurance kept lowering until I wasn’t even sure what I was paying for – even as the premium costs were rising.

It reached rock bottom last Spring when we attempted to actually use our insurance that I bought for $1400 every six months while a contract lecturer and beginning PhD student at a North Carolinian university. My boy was starting Kindergarten and needed to be current on his vaccines. Of course, both kids needed to be current, so we took them in one-by-one, got their shots and check-ups, handed over the insurance information, paid our co-pay and went on our way. Never thinking about it, assuming that insurance would do the job we paid them to do.

Exactly 6 months later we received bills, after I no longer had insurance (I had to leave my phd for variety of reasons), and addressed to our kids’ names and not mine, the policy holder, for substantial amounts. Apparently, my daughter owed over $400 and my son owed over $1600 to the doctor office, which was the net left over after the insurance contributed about $200 for each visit.

The Zelnios are paying more for simple vaccinations and check-ups than I had to personally cough up for a week of cardiac care and surgery in a hospital. That is a deep injustice. That is wrong. That shouldn’t be happening in what we arrogantly call the richest country on earth, but it is. And you don’t get to claim that people in these situations “deserve” it.

Most of the uninsured in this country aren’t lazy, freeloading hobos who don’t wanna work. They span a wide variety of demographics. As a 30 something, white male with advanced college degree who works full time as a self-employed consultant and writer are you surprised that I cannot afford health insurance for my family? In fact, the majority of uninsured are in my age range and are full or part time workers earning incomes above 100% the federal poverty level. The fact of the matter for many of the uninsured is that employment-sponsored coverage has been in decline due to the escalating costs of health care. Employers can’t remain competitive and pay double the costs they were paying a decade ago for insuring their workers.

The uninsured are locked out of basic health maintenance: now imagine a crisis, a life-threatening illness striking one of your kids. The Zelnios don’t have to imagine, it happened; read the whole thing.

This is madness. All this country has is this paltry compromise called Obamacare, which doesn’t even touch the fundamental problems of our rapacious insurance industry and complacent medical system, and the Republicans want to revoke even that. The people who are the heart of this country are driven into bankruptcy while the people who are little more than parasitic tumors, the obscenely wealthy, flourish. That is not a formula for survival.

(Also on Sb)

How many football games do you have to win to make up for one broken child?

Joe Paterno is dead. He won a bunch of games, and that’s the best thing he’ll be remembered for, which is awfully trivial, if you think about it. The worst thing he’ll be known for? He closed his eyes and kept silent when children were raped.

I’m imagining a scale. In the right pan are heaped all the great accomplishments of Joe Paterno — and it’s all inconsequential fluff, balls thrown across lines on the ground, numbers on scoreboards long since forgotten. In the left pan…well, we start by throwing on one child’s tears, and the balance tips with a leaden thud, the beam crashes to the ground, the whole assembly splinters and falls apart.

We’re done. The man’s life has been weighed and found wanting.

Sometimes Francis Collins does something right

He’s a delusional kook, but Collins is also a competent administrator, and I have to give him credit when he does the right thing.

The NIH, led by Dr. Collins, has recently accepted a recommendation from the National Institute of Medicine that future chimpanzee research funding shall be suspended, and that exceedingly strict guidelines are to be imposed.

They’re just too close to us, and should fall under the penumbra of the same ethical considerations we apply to humans. I’d say the same of gorillas and orangutans…but I don’t think there is any biomedical research being done on those animals, so the restriction would be unnecessary.

(Also on FtB)