Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Get well, Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens reports:
I have been advised by my physician that I must undergo a course of chemotherapy on my esophagus. This advice seems persuasive to me. I regret having had to cancel so many engagements at such short notice.
All the best, and get well soon—the world still needs you.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Jesus and Mo on accomodationism

Jesus and Mo is nearly always right on the mark: it proves that if a picture is worth a thousand words, a series of pictures with word bubbles is worth a million.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Three fiendishly difficult logical puzzles

The following are my three favorite logical puzzles of all time. Don't even bother trying them if you don't have a firm grounding in set theory and modal logic.

Logical Puzzle #1: A Cretan says "All Cretans are Cretans." Suppose he is telling the truth. Does it follow that all Cretans are Cretans? Really? All of them?

Logical Puzzle #2:. You must transport three sheep across a river, but your boat can hold only you and one sheep at a time. How can you transport all three sheep across the river so that none of them eat one another?

Logical Puzzle #3:. You visit the Island of Knights and Knaves. Knights always tell the truth on weekdays and when it is cold outside. Knaves always lie on weekends and when it is warm outside. What time is it?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Cosmos is on Hulu

The entirety of Carl Sagan's Cosmos is on Hulu! It's probably been there for ages, and I was too busy watching crap like Starship Troopers to notice. Yes, yes, Starship Troopers is entertaining crap, but Cosmos is entertaining, too, and not crap. Plus, it has Carl Sagan. Watch it quick, before Hulu's subscription policy kicks in, and kills off the whole website.

The Greatest Show on Earth

I can't believe I haven't yet plugged Richard Dawkins' latest book, The Greatest Show on Earth, on this blog. Dawkins had to call me up the other day to remind me. The conversation went something like this:

Dawkins: Oi! Read me bloomin' new book! I'm Richard Dawkins, I am!

Me: I read it a while ago, Dr. Dawkins. I just forgot to promote it on my blog.

Dawkins: Blimey!

OK, none of that happened, but it could have. Anyway, suffice it to say that The Greatest Show on Earth is signature Dawkins: reading it, one not only absorbs information effortlessly, but feels clearly that one is in the presence of a man who harbors deep love for the natural world and the correct tools for understanding it. Unfortunately, as the book is an intelligent book, concerned with things that actually are true, it is unsuitable for most audiences.

Friday, June 18, 2010

How not to protest the Cordoba Initiative

Elle Mikulincer-Weiss, Fifth Column at the Town Hall:
After a slow discussion about a new theatre project, the board moved to the main event. I struggled to hear the speakers over the shouts of Pamela Geller, who manages the conservative blog Atlas Shrugs. She was sitting a few rows behind me with some sign-carriers who looked like they lived outside the neighborhood, and whenever a speaker from the Coroda Project [sic] spoke, shouts of “Fifth column!” and “No more Shariah!” erupted behind me.

Judging by the crowd’s reaction, the Cordoba Initiative may have scored a major victory without lifting a finger. Instead of guns, the right-wingers seemed to have brought “weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men,” as the “Twilight Zone” episode “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” puts it. Listening to conspiracy theories about Muslims wanting to destroy democracy, I wondered whether I was an insane person in a reasonable world or if the whole world had gone crazy.


The protesters did not seem interested in empathy, though. When I heard one of them sound a shofar as a rallying cry, I asked why he chose a symbol of Jewish heritage to energize his cause.

“Well, I’m Christian so it’s my heritage now and I don’t care if Jews are insulted,” he replied.

“You lost that right when you rejected God,” his friend said. “It’s my religious heritage now, so why should I care what you think? Besides, Jews constantly don’t see what’s in front of them. They should have left Nazi Germany and gone to America. We’re a Christian nation.”
And it goes on. I'm accustomed to seeing this kind of behavior from Muslim protesters in YouTube clips; guess they don't have a monopoly.

The story of Dr. Wakefield

Brought to us by Darryl Cunningham.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

I just heard about Tim Farley's What's the Harm? site on the latest Point of Inquiry podcast. Looks like a good resource.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The atheist holiday: story completed

Saw yet another version of this joke e-mail posted on a religious bigot's blog:
Florida Court Sets Atheist Holy Day! Gotta love this Judge!

You must read this.....a proper decision by the courts...for a change.


In Florida , an atheist created a case against the upcoming Easter and Passover Holy days. He hired an attorney to bring a discrimination case against Christians and Jews and observances of their holy days. The argument was that it was unfair that atheists had no such recognized days.

The case was brought before a judge. After listening to the passionate presentation by the lawyer, the judge banged his gavel declaring, "Case dismissed!"

The lawyer immediately stood objecting to the ruling saying, "Your honor, How can you possibly dismiss this case? The Christians have Christmas, Easter and others. The Jews have Passover, Yom Kippur and Hanukkah, yet my client and all other atheists have no such holidays."

The judge leaned forward in his chair saying, "But you do. Your client, counsel, is woefully ignorant."

The lawyer said, "Your Honor, we are unaware of any special observance or holiday for atheists."

The judge said, "The calendar says April 1st is April Fools Day. Psalm 14:1 states, 'The fool says in his heart, there is no God.' Thus, it is the opinion of this court, that, if your client says there is no God, then he is a fool. Therefore, April 1st is his day. Court is adjourned."
You gotta love a Judge that knows his scripture! 

But the blog accidentally cuts off the end of the story. Allow me to rectify:
Suddenly, in a flash of light, the risen Christ appeared in the courtroom. The judge turned pale as Jesus pointed a finger at him and said, in a booming voice:

Verily, it is written: "But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell." [Matthew 5:22]

And a fiery chasm opened before the judge, who toppled forward, screaming, into the depths of Hell.

As did all of the bigots who forwarded the stupid e-mail.

You gotta love Christians who don't know the Bible.


Monday, June 14, 2010

LOL. What a pretentious doofus.

Funny, except people like him will probably end up putting half of the country up against the wall.

H/T: Little Green Footballs.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Neil deGrasse Tyson on scientific literacy

I'm late to this, but it's still worth reposting:

The more things change, the more they stay the same

Tim Dickinson has an upsetting article in Rolling Stone on "the inside story of how Obama failed to crack down on the corruption of the Bush years—and let the world's most dangerous oil company get away with murder."

It's great that Obama says that he takes responsibility for the Gulf spill, and that the buck stops with him, and all that. Surely, he'll resign. Who knows, maybe someday we'll even get that mythical creature at the helm: a President who does not issue a blank check to big business.

H/T: The Daily Doubter.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Chomsky and Horowitz, 2gether 4ever!

Those on the left will be dismayed to hear that I have long been a fan of David Horowitz, albeit with some severe misgivings. Those on the right will be dismayed to hear that I have, of recent, developed (not without some kicking and screaming) a similar attitude toward Noam Chomsky. I'm trying to keep up with both, as I feel that, between the two, I can get a decent sense of the lay of the land. My most recent foray has been into Chomsky and Achcar's Perilous Power and David Horowitz's Unholy Alliance; unsurprisingly, the two books stake out positions about as different as any two books can. In keeping with my general attitude towards the two authors,* I agree with large swathes of both books, and think that both suffer from parallel problems where they go wrong.

In a nutshell: Chomsky does a fine job of highlighting some of the United States' serious moral defects, and ably exposes the hypocrisy of some of our country's uncritical defenders. Horowitz does an equally fine job of highlighting some of the serious moral defects of the United States' enemies, and equally ably exposes the hypocrisy of some of our country's uncritical critics. Both, however, suffer from Manichean excesses; hence, their appearances in one another's books. The truth is not always to be found in middle ground, but here is a case where I think it is so: there is, in the world, more than enough corruption and idiocy to go around. One ought to be able to acknowledge the checkered moral histories and current policies of all countries and all ideologies, one's own favorites included. The most powerful country in the world has, perhaps, the most opportunity to unleash its corruption and idiocy on the rest of the world, but this does not make the rest of the world any less corrupt or idiotic in its own right; the only difference is between those who, through cruelty or indifference, step on others to lift themselves up, and those who would do so, if only they had the power. Truly, there is no one innocent. Without this recognition, without perceiving the need to fight on all fronts at once, there is no hope—either we will be overrun by enemies, or we will conquer all foes and lose ourselves in the process.

* What about Achcar, you ask? He lost me in the first chapter; those who (like me) have had their opinions of Chomsky primed by people like Horowitz will be surprised to see Chomsky slapping down Achcar repeatedly in the first chapter for his forays into true nuttiness.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

How BP handles coffee spills.

This is almost as funny and sad as the McCain "fence" ad. Well... OK... it doesn't even come close to the McCain ad, but it's still both funny and sad.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Poisoner's Handbook

I have wanted to read Deborah Blum's The Poisoner's Handbook since hearing an interview with her on the Scientific American podcast. The book does not disappoint: Blum is a very talented writer, and the book is full of surprises. I had not known, for instance, that so many people in the United States died from drinking denatured alcohol during the Prohibition era, and that the federal government's response was to try to make denatured alcohol even more poisonous. I was unaware that companies touted newly discovered radioisotopes as health products, even selling water laced with radium as a rejuvenating drink. And none of this even gets us into the many murder stories or tales of science versus politics centering upon the book's two heroes. If you think you will not be able to enjoy a book which is fundamentally about forensic chemistry, guess again.