Measured Against Reality

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Gay Rights, History, and a Wyoming Republican

From Ed Brayton I learned of this speech by a Wyoming State Representative named Dan Zwonitzer, a republican. He defends gay rights very well, while speaking of how the cultural momentum will eventually grant gays equal rights, despite the wishes of those who, inexplicably, want to deny them. This truly is the civil rights crisis of our time, and I'm glad that some politicians are willing to put their offices on the line to be on the side of justice and compassion.

Here's the speech:

Thank you Mr. Speaker and Members of the Committee.

I am not going to speak of specifics regarding this bill, but rather talk about history and philosophy in regards to this issue.

It is an exciting time to be in the legislature while this issue is being debated. I believe this is the Civil Rights struggle of my generation.

Being a student of history, as many of you are, and going back through history, most of history has been driven by the struggle of man against government to endow him with more rights, privileges and liberties to be bestowed upon him.

In all of my high school courses, we only made it through history to World War 2. It wasn't until college that I really learned of the civil rights movement in the 60's. My American History professor was black, and we spent a week discussing civil rights. I watched video after video where people stood on the sidelines and yelled and threw things at black students walking into schools, I've read editorials and reports by both sides of the issue, and I would think, how could society feel this way, only 40 years ago.

Under a democracy the civil rights struggle continues today, where we have one segment of our society trying to restrict rights and privelges from another segment of our society. My parents raised me to know that this is wrong.

It is wrong for one segment of society to restrict rights and freedoms from another segment of society. I believe many of you have had this conversation with your children.

And children have listened, my generation, the twenty-somethings, and those younger than I understand this message of tolerance. And in 20 years, when they take the reigns of this government and all governments, society will see this issue overturned, and people will wonder why it took so long.

My kids and grandkids will ask me, why did it take so long? And I can say, hey, I was there, I discussed these issues, and I stood up for basic rights for all people.

I echo Representative Childers concerns, that testifying against this bill may cost me my seat. I have two of my precinct committee persons behind me today who are in favor of this bill, as I stand here opposed, and I understand that I may very well lose my election. It cost 4 moderate Republican Senators in Kansas their election last year for standing up on this same issue. But I tell myself that there are some issues that are greater than me, and I believe this is one of them. And if standing up for equal rights costs me my seat so be it. I will let history be my judge, and I can go back to my constituents and say I stood up for basic rights. I will tell my children that when this debate went on, I stood up for basic rights for people.

I can debate the specifics of this bill back and forth as everyone in this room can, but I won't because the overall theme is fairness, and you know it. I hope you will all let history be your judge with this vote. You all know in your hearts where this issue is going, that it will come to pass in the next 30 years. For that, I ask you to vote no today on the bill. Thank you.

The sentiment that our grandchildren will wonder how our current situation could have ever happened (as most of us wonder how anyone could have supported segregation or slavery) is one I've mentioned before. As that post says, how will you want your grandchildren to think about you? As a bigot and an embarrassment, the way you'd view your very racist family member, or as someone to be proud of, someone to learn from, someone who stood up for the rights of a minority when it counted? Act accordingly.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Spread of Religions

Here's a cool little movie about the spread of the big religions over the past few thousand years. Nothing too fancy, but it does a good job of demonstrating how they spread and when.


Red-light Cameras in Texas

No matter what you hear to the contrary, remember, red-light cameras are not about revenues.

Of course, you'll have to neglect incidents like this. Lubbock Texas plans to install red-light cameras on a bunch of lights with shorter-than-normal yellows and makes the city engineer promise not to lengthen them because it will cut into revenues. Literally, they are compromising the safety of the lights to make more money off of them. Don't buy it? Adding a second to the time reduces both accidents and profits. But apparently the safety of its citizens is a secondary concern to the government of Lubbock. Congrats, you greedy bastards.

But remember, lights are not about profits, they're about safety.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Breaking News: Prohibition doesn't work, has unintended consequences

What happens when a state bans cigarettes in prisons? If you guessed, "A black market evolves, with skyrocketing prices, smuggling, and corruption", then you guessed well. Although that should be no surprise, as it's the same damn thing that happens any time anything people want is banned, whether it's cigarettes, drugs, alcohol, or anything. You can't eliminate vice with legislation, you can only make it more expensive and dangerous. I wonder when our stupid government is going to figure out that 90-year-old lesson?

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Some good news

Since this blog is at risk of becoming quite negative, here's some good news. I love how the author mentions how people assume that reports of increased sexuality means it's actually happening, despite every bit of real evidence I've ever seen indicating that it's falling. Oh well, data just doesn't matter to most people, perception is more important.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

What's wrong with us?

Yesterday, in response to this link-post, I got the following amazing comment by a man named Robert:

Actually I'm just plain old, but I have lived through some interesting political upheavals.

The Province of Quebec, Canada was in my youth little more than a theocracy, ruled by the Catholic Church. So total was its influence on everyday life that it was not uncommon to have a man's paycheck delivered to the parish priest first. This was only one of the abuses that were in common practice here fifty years ago.

This influence was broken during the so called 'Quiet Revolution' when a group of committed people decided to knock down this rotten edifice that from the outside looked impregnable if only from inertia.

They succeeded. Now Quebec has one of the most lively secular cultures in North America.

The United States has not traveled so far down this road that the majority of you no longer remember what you once were, what you once believed, that a fire cannot be lit that will burn away this tissue of lies that cover you.

It's perhaps not my place to lecture you on how you should run your nation; however in OUR dark time it was the light that was shining from the South that gave us hope and showed us what was possible.

Don't let it go out.

I know few people who think the US is headed in a good direction. Although we might all disagree on certain points, the flagrant disregard for the law (both US and international) the current administration has shown, its reckless spending, its absurd tax cuts, the preposterous war on drugs, the tragic rejection of equality for all our citizens, the suspension of habeas corpus, the ridiculous expansion of executive power, and the general mangling of the constitution (over the past century) all need to be fixed.

None of it ever will be changed with a complacent population. Voting is not enough anymore, and don’t even pretend like online petitions or angry blog entries (like this one) mean anything. I don’t honestly know what will make a difference. But I know that something needs to be done.

I used to read an author named Daniel Quinn. He raised similar concerns in people, although on a larger scale (dealing with human civilization as a whole rather than one particular country). I don’t subscribe to his theories as much now, but he was often asked by concerned people, “You’ve made me aware of these problems, but what can I do to fix them?” His answer was simply, “Raise the consciousnesses of others as yours was raised.” If you agree with me and Robert and everyone else who thinks that the US is headed down a bad path, and you want to help, then raise consciousnesses. Make people aware of the problems. The more people who want change, the easier it will be to enact.

Maybe I’m overreacting. Perhaps the people of every age feel their country falling away from what they consider its principles to be, feel it getting worse. Maybe my concerns and those of the people who think like me are unfounded. But as Robert said, at one point we were a “light shining from the South”, and I’m pretty damn sure that the light is fading, if it’s not already out.

I wish I had a strong conclusion, I wish I had a way to end this. But I don’t, and I can’t. It doesn’t end here.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Beautiful, sad, disturbing, and disgusting.

This made my heart hurt a little.

Thought without evidence is pointless, evidence without thought is meaningless.

Thought without evidence is pointless, evidence without thought is meaningless.

I wanted to write that sentence before explaining where it came from or what it means to me. I want you to remember it.

It occurred to me after reading an article a reader sent me (he didn’t seem to pleased with my response, but I was just giving my opinion as he requested). It was a philosophical argument for god’s existence, specifically the Cosmological Argument. I have very little respect for purely philosophical arguments in general, mostly because an argument can be sound and logical but absolutely wrong.

Don’t get me wrong, thought experiments can be useful, but a real experiment is better. Some very famous and correct Theories in Physics came from thought experiments and were validated later on. However, had they not been proven somehow, they would not be accepted. You simply cannot know if any hypothesis is correct without testing it, and philosophical arguments, I’d say by definition, are untested outside of the realm of thought. (String theory is having some problems with this right now, but that’s a story for another day and a qualified Physicist.)

However, the greatest data in the world is utterly worthless without clear and careful thought and analysis; an incorrect interpretation of data can utterly destroy its potential. I quite frequently see evidence interpreted incorrectly, most often with faulty conclusions drawn from weak correlations (remember, correlation does not indicate causation).

In order to understand the world, our thought must be grounded in reality, and our experiments into nature must be thought about carefully. As the wonders of the scientific age demonstrate, reason and evidence go together remarkably well, but without each other they’re both quite lame.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Who are we protecting?

I'd like someone to tell me that this isn't one of the stupidest things you've ever heard. How can someone be BOTH victim and perpetrator of the same damn crime? And how exactly does a law that's supposed to protect children protect children if it's convicting children?

It doesn't, plain and simple. It's high time we start to rethink all of these laws that are supposed to protect people, but instead punish those who engage in reasonable consensual activities. Child molesters should be punished, but children should not.

(Edit: Another case I mention in the comments here)

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Monday, February 19, 2007

How DO you live in this age?

CAKE is one of my favorite bands, and recently they held a contest to answer this question, the best answer would win their latest CD.

Dear CAKE,

I think a similar question may have been posed before, but how do you continue to enjoy life in this age? Knowing people across the world want to kill you, and that every time you turn the key to your car you're using a non-renewable resource that's not only destroying the environment but slowly destroying civilization? I'm 18, what do I have to look forward to in the grand scheme of things? Do any of you have families? What do you think about having kids? This may sound kind of desperate, sorry. I don't mean it to. I'm not really agonizing about it, but it's in the back of my mind a lot.



I think that this is a fairly important question (or type of question) that many people struggle with, and my answer is below.

Dear Tim,

I’ll let you in on the dirty little secret: the world is no different now than it ever was before. Sure, the problems we face are different, and perhaps more global than regional but there’s still suffering, death, hatred, and troubles. But there’s also love and kindness and compassion and solutions.

Tim, the only answer to your question is that your life is what you make it. If you’re concerned about global warming, then do what you can to stop it. Maybe even go into engineering or science and help produce new, renewable, sources of energy. If you’re concerned about terrorism then stop being silly, you’re more likely to be killed by a falling coconut. But if you really are concerned about destructive ideologies, then fight for tolerance. It might seem like you won’t make a difference, but sure as hell won’t if you don’t do anything.

But most of all, life is short, and it’s all we get. Enjoy it while you have it. How you enjoy it is completely up to you. Have fun figuring it out.

Stuart Coleman

For more (and probably better) answers See here

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Follow Biblical Law

Laura Schlessinger is a US radio personality who dispenses advice And usually
scoldings to people who call in to her radio show. Recently, she said that
to an Orthodox Jew, homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus
18:22 and cannot be condoned in any circumstance.

The following is an open letter to Dr. Laura penned by a US resident and also
posted on the internet:

Dear Dr. Laura:

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have
learned a great deal from your show, and I try to share that knowledge with
as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual
lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly
states it to be an abomination. End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the specific
laws and how to follow them.

a) When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing
odour for the Lord (Lev. 1:9). The problem is my neighbours. They
claim the odour is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

b) I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus
21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

c) I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is
in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev. 15:19-24). The problem is,
how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offence.

d) Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and
female, provided they are purchased from neighbouring nations.
A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not
Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

e) I have a neighbour who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2
clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill
him myself?

f) A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an
abomination (Lev. 11:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I
don't agree. Can you settle this?

g) Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a
defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my
vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

h) Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair
around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden
by Lev.19:27. How should they die?

i) I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me
unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

j) My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19:19 by planting two
different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments
made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend).
He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that
we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone
them? (Lev.24:10-16) Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private
family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws?
(Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I
am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God's word
is eternal and unchanging. Your devoted disciple and adoring fan.


Saturday, February 17, 2007

Here's a funny description of how science works compared to faith. I Laughed.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Darwin Day

I just received a comment from Nick saying that he thought I'd post on Darwin day. I haven't been posting on much of anything, mainly because I don't feel like I have any good ideas and nothing that I've tried to write has come out anywhere close to decent. Plus I'm getting too angry seeing the same stupidity in the news over and over again, posting on it might give me an aneurysm.

Regardless, what do I think of Darwin day? For those unfamiliar, it's a sunday where preachers preach to their congregation about Darwin and evolution in a positive way. Most thinking people don't make a big deal about for a few reasons.

First, it happens in about 500 churches. I'm reasonably certain that's not even half of a percent of all churches. While it's a nice start, the vast majority of church-goers aren't getting the message.

Second, the church is no damn place to hear about evolution. We have biology classes in schools, it should be taught there. Besides, anyone who genuinely thinks that evolution and religion conflict probably isn't going to be swayed by one sermon.

Finally, those people are still going to church.

Darwin day is just a PR stunt, a way of saying "look, evolution and religion can coexist!" But in reality, few sane people believe that, since anything but lip service to any religion is totally and completely incompatible with any and all science. You have to throw the superstitious, ignorant, and incorrect scriptures out the window.

And it's happening, slowly.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

What is intelligence anyway? By Isaac Asimov

What is intelligence, anyway? When I was in the army, I received the kind of aptitude test that all soldiers took and, against a normal of 100, scored 160. No one at the base had ever seen a figure like that, and for two hours they made a big fuss over me. (It didn't mean anything. The next day I was still a buck private with KP - kitchen police - as my highest duty.)

All my life I've been registering scores like that, so that I have the complacent feeling that I'm highly intelligent, and I expect other people to think so too. Actually, though, don't such scores simply mean that I am very good at answering the type of academic questions that are considered worthy of answers by people who make up the intelligence tests - people with intellectual bents similar to mine?

For instance, I had an auto-repair man once, who, on these intelligence tests, could not possibly have scored more than 80, by my estimate. I always took it for granted that I was far more intelligent than he was. Yet, when anything went wrong with my car I hastened to him with it, watched him anxiously as he explored its vitals, and listened to his pronouncements as though they were divine oracles - and he always fixed my car.

Well, then, suppose my auto-repair man devised questions for an intelligence test. Or suppose a carpenter did, or a farmer, or, indeed, almost anyone but an academician. By every one of those tests, I'd prove myself a moron, and I'd be a moron, too. In a world where I could not use my academic training and my verbal talents but had to do something intricate or hard, working with my hands, I would do poorly. My intelligence, then, is not absolute but is a function of the society I live in and of the fact that a small subsection of that society has managed to foist itself on the rest as an arbiter of such matters.

Consider my auto-repair man, again. He had a habit of telling me jokes whenever he saw me. One time he raised his head from under the automobile hood to say: "Doc, a deaf-and-mute guy went into a hardware store to ask for some nails. He put two fingers together on the counter and made hammering motions with the other hand. The clerk brought him a hammer. He shook his head and pointed to the two fingers he was hammering. The clerk brought him nails. He picked out the sizes he wanted, and left. Well, doc, the next guy who came in was a blind man. He wanted scissors. How do you suppose he asked for them?"

Indulgently, I lifted by right hand and made scissoring motions with my first two fingers. Whereupon my auto-repair man laughed raucously and said, "Why, you dumb jerk, He used his voice and asked for them." Then he said smugly, "I've been trying that on all my customers today." "Did you catch many?" I asked. "Quite a few," he said, "but I knew for sure I'd catch you." "Why is that?" I asked. "Because you're so goddamned educated, doc, I knew you couldn't be very smart."

And I have an uneasy feeling he had something there.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Yet More Stupidity

Read this article and then explain to me how our society is not totally insane.

In case you're too lazy (or wary) to click the link, a girl has been charged with sexually assaulting herself. You read that right. She took pictures of herself, posted them online, and because she's underage (15), she's guilty of sexual assault. Against herself.

Honestly, how stupid is this? Who was injured? Who suffered because of her actions? This is just another case of the government sticking its big hairy nose where it's neither wanted nor needed and punishing someone who is guilty of nothing.

The sad thing is that this doesn't surprise me at all, and I guarantee it will not be the last time it happens.