I just wanted to apologize to all 4 of the people who have subscribed to my RSS feed (woo!) about the Digg spam. I was playing around with one of the many features that Feedburner offers to spruce up your feed, but I didn’t realize it was going to grab all my most recent diggs and spam my feed with them.

I turned that feature off as soon as I saw what it did, so it won’t be happening again.

Also, it occurs to me that I am one of those 4 subscribers. Sigh.

Videos I found on another blog (or: has it come to this already?)

These two videos are mind-boggling.

This first one is from an IMAX documentary called "Cosmic Voyage" (narrated by Morgan Freeman), which I was lucky enough to see when it came out in `96. Each circle (they’re kinda hard to see at first) is ten times larger than the one before it, which helps you to wrap your mind around just how insanely large the universe is. Well, it helps a little. It’s still too large for the human mind to comprehend; after all, I still think California is pretty far away.

Next, a video that helps you to understand how large many of the celestial bodies of our universe are. It’s really cool because it shows you just how small Earth is in relation to the gas giants (Neptune, Saturn, Jupiter), and then how small the gas giants are in relation to our sun (Sol), and then how small our sun is in relation to other stars. Again, it’s mind-boggling.

Protesting, within reason


When you imagine that this is a top-down view of the elephant, it looks like it’s been crushed to death by a tank, complete with treadmarks.

I’m trying to find a word that describes how I feel about the Republican party that isn’t "hate". Loathe? Sure, that’s good. I loathe the Republicans. They’ve consistently shown that they don’t give two shits about this country, and seem to be actively working to destroy it.

Ok, that’s a bit harsh. But needless to say, I want to do whatever I can to make sure that "Bush Light" McCain isn’t elected. Shockingly, he’s currently tied in the polls with Obama, which just goes to show that there are a lot of people who still haven’t learned from their mistakes.

Well, "good" news: the Republican National Convention is being held here in Minnesota, in St. Paul, which is only 15 minutes away from where I live. So, maybe I should join one of the protest groups!

Well…maybe not. Here’s the thing: there aren’t really a whole lot of level-headed, reasonable protest groups out there. Where they say "get out of Iraq NOW", I say "come up with a sensible plan to get out of Iraq while at the same time stabilizing their government, helping their citizens, and preventing full-scale civil war". That’s not something that fits on a protest sign very easily.

There’s another protest for immigrant rights. I’m certainly in favor of treating people like people! What a novel concept! Except…there’s a whole lot of Spanish on the information page. I don’t mind Spanish (I even know a little bit of it) but I think providing non-English translations for everything is the wrong way to go. It basically allows for a language-based caste system. People who don’t know English in this country don’t get nearly the same benefits and opportunities that English-speaking people do. And part of the reason why there are so many people in this country already who don’t know English is that our immigration system is currently pretty poor, which is why I support immigration reform in the first place…

And then there’s a music festival of some sort. In other words, HIPPIES. I guarantee that’ll be nothing but white people with dreadlocks, people wearing hemp necklaces, dirty people poorly playing poorly-written songs on cheap acoustic guitars, and drum circles.

But the worst part? All of it will probably be completely ineffective. For one, the police don’t seem to be allowing anyone near the Xcel center in any meaningful way. Second, these are Republicans. They don’t care what the common people have to say.

So…I’m probably not going to go to a protest. I’ll probably wind up sitting at home and blogging about it. And honestly, making fun of the Republicans is fun. I just wish they didn’t have any control over our country.

It seemed like a good idea, at first… (the Boy Scout coin)

I was listening to Atheist Talk this morning, and their guest, Lori Lipman Brown, brought up an issue that I had assumed was settled, for good or bad.

The issue is the minting of a special coin to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America. The bill was introduced months ago, but apparently it’s being held up due to lobbying by people like Brown.

I want to tell you exactly why the hell I’m opposed to this bill, but first I need to talk about my history in Boy Scouts.

For most of my childhood, I was involved in Scouting. I started in Tiger Cubs when I was really young (I don’t even remember when that was…6 or 7 probably) and then moved up to Cub Scouts, working my way up the ranks until I entered Boy Scouts. I went on nearly every camping trip, I made a lot of friends, and learned a lot of important stuff. As I got older, I took on certain leadership roles in my troop, and held the position of Scribe, Patrol Leader, Assistant Senior Patrol Leader, and eventually even Senior Patrol Leader (the non-adult leader of the troop). I earned at least a dozen and a half merit badges and got to the rank of Life Scout (which is one step down from Eagle), and even became a member of the Order of the Arrow before I succumbed to being a teenager and lost interest.

So it’s with great sorrow that I say that I can no longer support the Boy Scouts. And here’s why:

The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God. In the first part of the Scout Oath or Promise the member declares, ‘On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law.’ The recognition of God as the ruling and leading power in the universe and the grateful acknowledgment of His favors and blessings are necessary to the best type of citizenship and are wholesome precepts in the education of the growing members." (source)

Religion has always been a part of Boy Scouts, of course. And I always just tried to ignore those parts as much as I could when I was a member. However, the unstated premise here is: no atheists or agnostics. Interestingly, they don’t seem to care which religion you practice, just as long as you believe in God (or, presumably, gods). It’s worth pointing out that 62% of all units (troops, packs, etc.) are sponsored by religious groups, the largest being the Mormons, Methodists, and Roman Catholics.

Then there’s this:

"Boy Scouts of America believes that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the obligations in the Scout Oath and Scout Law to be morally straight and clean in thought, word, and deed. The conduct of youth members must be in compliance with the Scout Oath and Law, and membership in Boy Scouts of America is contingent upon the willingness to accept Scouting’s values and beliefs." (source)

So, they discriminate against atheists, agnostics, AND homosexuals.

I could point out that they also don’t allow female members, but then it IS called the BOY Scouts. And besides, seeing female leaders, camp counselors, and even the occasional scout wasn’t that uncommon in my time.

And I should also point out that not all scout groups are discriminatory. In fact, most of them aren’t. Most are led by people who live by the morals that they teach and know to treat all people with respect and dignity, no matter what the official position of the organization is. And I think that eventually, the whole organization will change its stance on these discriminating issues. However, right now, the official position of the BSA is to discriminate against atheists, agnostics, and homosexuals.

Now, for some Libertarianism: I believe that any privately-funded organization is fully within their rights to discriminate against whomever they wish. I don’t have to like it. However, the BSA is NOT a private organization. Which brings us back to the coin. Remember the coin?

According to the bills, they intend to mint 350,000 of these coins and sell them for $10 per coin, with all of the profits going directly to the BSA. That’s $3.5 million going to a religious organization with discriminatory policies and practices. Why don’t we just send the Pope a check?

This bill is clearly in violation of the First Amendment and Church/State separation. The government should/must not fund religious organizations, no matter how much good they do. And it certainly shouldn’t fund organizations that discriminate against ANYONE. Indeed, this bill seems to be a very sneaky way to support religion, disguised as a way to honor one of this country’s most beloved organizations.

Just for the hell of it, here’s what I think the BSA needs to do:

  1. Stop discriminating against atheists and agnostics. Stop discriminating against homosexuals (and bisexuals and all that). Stop discriminating against females. In fact, just stop discriminating against anyone.
  2. Modify your programs to allow for alternate paths for the nonreligious. For example, where advancement regulations currently require a scout to attend their church/temple/mosque and discuss what they saw with a leader, allow them to visit a secular center or read a secular book, watch a secular documentary or TV program, or something like that. It’s kinda hard to say what exactly, since atheists don’t have churches.
    In fact, even better: require kids to attend a church AND a temple AND a mosque AND a secular…thingy, and so on. Having kids learn about different cultures is one of the most worthwhile things the BSA could do.
  3. Stop with all this "you need God to be moral" nonsense. You don’t. This is definitely a topic that needs its own post, but I did post an article I found recently that is a good start.
    How about replacing "reverent" in the Scout Law with "moral"? It seems to me that the inclusion of "reverent" instead of "moral" indicates that you think that they are one and the same. However, how is it moral to discriminate against someone else? Again, a topic for another day.

I really hope the BSA shapes up. My memories of my time as a scout are some of the happiest I have, and it makes me sad that I can no longer recommend it as it is today.

I also recommend an episode of Penn & Teller’s show Bullshit (season 4, episode 1), which tackles the boy scout/church & state issue specifically (though not the coin bill).

The Dawkins Belief Scale

As I’ve been writing, it seems to me that it’s a good idea to explain a “tool” I’ll be using at certain points to describe degrees of theistic belief, or lack thereof.

In his book “The God Delusion” (which I highly recommend), Richard Dawkins lays out a 7-point scale that defines degrees of agnosticism, from 100% belief to 100% non-belief.  In this case, I’m going to cut-and-paste a slightly easier to understand version adapted by Christopher Sisk on his web site.

  1. Strong Theist: I do not question the existence of God, I KNOW he exists.
  2. De-facto Theist: I cannot know for certain but I strongly believe in God and I live my life on the assumption that he is there.
  3. Weak Theist: I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.
  4. Pure Agnostic: God’s existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.
  5. Weak Atheist: I do not know whether God exists but I’m inclined to be skeptical.
  6. De-facto Atheist: I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable and I live my life under the assumption that he is not there.
  7. Strong Atheist: I am 100% sure that there is no God.

I consider myself to be a 6: De-facto Atheist. Dawkins himself claims to be 6-7. Personally, I think 7 is just being unreasonable, at least right now. It’s true that there’s no proof that God exists, but there’s also no proof that God doesn’t exist, and unfortunately there never will be, because it’s impossible to prove that something doesn’t exist (if something doesn’t exist, it can’t exactly leave evidence of its nonexistence). And, a #1 is just insane. Those people are delusional.

Anyway, I’ll be referring to this scale in future posts, because it’s a lot easier to just point to a number on a chart and say “that one” than try to define a degree of belief in relation to other degrees of belief

Inventing words

Do you know that feeling you get when you’re watching/listening to/reading the news and something simultaneously makes you laugh and fills you with sorrow? A mix of the horrible and the hilarious? Like when ignorant people in positions of power say stupid things that affect thousands of people? Like pretty much every story on the Daily Show for the past 8 years? We need a word for that.

One of the best ways to create a new word, while at the same time making it understandable to people who’ve never heard it before, is to just mash two words together, and that’s what I’m going to do here.

Let’s consult the mighty Thesaurus:

amusing, comical, entertaining, funny, humorous, jocular, jovial, ludicrous, merry

abhorrent, abominable, appalling, atrocious, awful, cruel, despicable, detestable, dire, dreadful, excruciating, execrable, fearful, formidable, ghastly, gruesome, grim, grisly, gruesome, harrowing, heinous, hideous, horrendous, horrid, horrific, loathsome, mean, nasty, nefarious, obnoxious, repulsive, revolting, shocking, terrible, ugly, unbearable, ungodly, unpleasant, unspeakable, vile

Ok, that’s enough. Let’s see…some of them don’t really apply, or don’t fit our purposes, or aren’t very well-known. So, I’ll just narrow the list a bit.

comical, funny, humorous, ludicrous

appalling, atrocious, awful, heinous, revolting, terrible, unbearable

There. Not a whole lot to work with, I must say. Hmm…this is going to be harder than I thought. Well, let’s try mashing some words together and see what happens.

hilorrible, horrarious, atrocihumorous, horrihumorous, revoltical, terricomical, humorawfulus, horrifunny, funawful, heinorous, hilariterrible, appallicrous

My spellchecker just put a great big red line under every single one of those words (including "spellchecker"). Oh, if only it knew the meaning of the word "futility".

You know, this is really hard. None of those words seem to be very good at performing the required task. In fact, they’re all just cumbersome.

This seems like a project I’ll have to put off until a later date. Until then, maybe somebody can come up with some superior solutions to the problem. Or maybe there’s already a word for this phenomenon that I’ve overlooked, or have never heard before.


To be continued…

Wheel of Morality, Turn Turn Turn

This just popped up on Digg today, and I thought I’d share it. It’s a fascinating (and long!) article about where morality comes from. It’s written by Steven Pinker, who I think is brilliant. I’ve heard about him and his books from several different sources lately, and he always seems to be studying something interesting.

The author also discusses a lot of info from Richard Dawkins’ book The Selfish Gene, which I just added to my "To Read" list. (I’ve been considering reading it for a while now, since I’ve read The God Delusion and am currently listening to the Ancestor’s Tale audiobook.)