blueollie

Some of Richard Dawkins

I can sum up most of what he says:

“just because we can’t provide an answer to this question doesn’t mean that we have to conjecture an existence of this god or that god. And why should be favor your god vs. that god.”

October 30, 2014 Posted by | religion, science | | Leave a comment

No. Partial. Credit.

Sometimes, partial credit isn’t good enough.

No one was injured.

October 28, 2014 Posted by | science, space, technology | | Leave a comment

Class, Gaussians and Islam in the world…

Islam in the world I wrote about this earlier. Evidently many conflate criticism of Islam (and its practices) with a justification for discrimination against Muslims; those are very different things. A Pakistani woman wrote an open letter to explain why the points brought up by Bill Maher and Sam Harris are worthy ones:

And in yesterday’s issue of Pakistan Today, you’ll find her piece: “An open letter to Ben Affleck“. As a few quotes below will show, she goes after Affleck for trying, as she argues, to minimize the plight of Muslim women like her. Just a bit to give you the flavor:

Noble liberals like yourself always stand up for the misrepresented Muslims and stand against the Islamophobes, which is great but who stands in my corner and for the others who feel oppressed by the religion? Every time we raise our voices, one of us is killed or threatened. I am a blogger and illustrator, no threat to anyone, Ben, except for those afraid of words and drawings. I want the freedom to express myself without the very real fear that I might be killed for it. Is that too much to ask?

When I wrote a children’s book that carried a message of diversity and inclusivity for everyone, my life changed. My book, ‘My Chacha (uncle) is Gay’ has the innocent anti-homophobia message, ‘Love belongs to everyone’. This was not palatable to many of my Muslim brothers and sisters.

Since that project I have been declared an ‘enemy of God’ and deemed worthy of death. All because I want to help create a world where South Asian children too can have their stories told, so they too can know that love comes in all forms, and that that’s okay. My Muslim brothers and sisters were hit hard by this work because it addresses the issue of homophobia within our own community. It is not something they can pass off as ‘Western’ immorality. Just like they deny that any issues exist within the doctrine of Islam, many deny that homosexuality exists amongst good, ‘moral’ Muslims. Just like that, millions of people’s existence is denied. Please do not defend people who think this way, and let me tell you Ben, many ‘good’ Muslims do think this way.

What you did by screaming ‘racist!’ was shut down a conversation that many of us have been waiting to have. . . You became an instant hero, a defender of Islam.

Here is something to remember: the most radical right wing American Christians would be …flaming liberals if they were Muslims:

In your culture you have the luxury of calling such literalists “crazies”, like the Westboro Baptist Church, for example. In my culture, such values are upheld by more people than we realise. Many will try to deny it, but please hear me when I say that these are not fringe values. It is apparent in the lacking numbers of Muslims willing to speak out against the archaic Shariah law. The punishment for blasphemy and apostasy, etc, are tools of oppression. Why are they not addressed even by the peaceful folk who “aren’t fanatical, who just want to have some sandwiches and pray five times a day? Where are the Muslim protestors against blasphemy laws/apostasy? Where are the Muslims who take a stand against harsh interpretation of Shariah? These sandwich-eating peaceful folk do not defend those suffering in the name of Islam, Ben, and therein lies our problem.

Accuracy in media
Here is an example of Fox News reporting something that is blatantly false, but not issuing a correction. The claim was that Colorado law allowed for people to print out their own ballots; that is only true for Military personnel living overseas.

Epic Class Warfare rant
Marc Randazza is a famous First Amendment lawyer. He can’t stand some attitudes exhibited by some rich people, even though he is well off. Read his “candy woman” rant.

Ok, I have a few hang ups about Halloween Trick or Treaters but these tend to be “Larry Davidish”.

Mathematics and statistics Some statistical distributions appear over and over again. This one appears to be half Gaussian, half exponential.

October 27, 2014 Posted by | Fox News Lies Again, mathematics, political/social, politics/social, poverty, religion, rich, science, social/political, statistics | , , , , | Leave a comment

Foods: comfort and GMO

No, there aren’t comfort foods. Sure, people do feel better after eating them, but evidence shows that they would also feel better after “waiting it out”.

My conjecture: I wonder if, say, people who go out for ice cream when they are feeling bad are really made to feel better afterward by the social event rather than the food?

GMO: check out what these fruits and vegetables were like prior to being genetically modified!

October 16, 2014 Posted by | science, social/political | , | Leave a comment

biology, dating and social norms of yesteryear

Video: this is 30 minutes long. Upshot: she gives a nice presentation of why some male/female social norms were the way that they were (saying: “men suck” is too simplistic) and notes that many want rights but don’t want obligations.

My counter is that many women that I know are extremely fair minded; they want equal rights for women but they agree that these indeed come with equal obligations. Not everyone is that way, of course, but any large movement will have its share of dummies and slackers.

I think that she is a good example of someone who can present a different point of view but do so in a logical, cohesive manner.

Science
Yes, the current post-doc system (at least in biology) can become abusive. The lab system trains more lab scientists than there is room for.

Good news: SCOTUS rejects an appeal for a teacher that was fired for pushing creationism in the class room. Academic freedom and First Amendment rights do not extend toward protecting incompetence.

Dating application There is a dating application that weeds out poor people (or, say, the non-wealthy). Though some are outraged, I am fine with that. People can select who they want to date. Not everyone is for everyone else.

October 7, 2014 Posted by | creationism, evolution, science, social/political | | Leave a comment

Climate change, creationism, jobs, and race

Talk about a sticky situation. A white lesbian couple paid a sperm bank for sperm from a white male…and ended up with sperm from a black male. Now they have a half-black daughter…and they are suing.

Oh sure, one can say that they entered a business transaction and didn’t get what they paid for. But what effect will this have on the kid? Ah, they’ll probably blame it on the racism of others. ;-)

Jobs report

248K new jobs last month; the good is that this is better than losing jobs. The bad: the new jobs aren’t paying well.

Science
The Aral Sea was once the 4’th largest lake in the world. By 2000 it had shrunk a great deal, and now it is almost gone.

aral_arg_1964234.0

aral_sea_2000_vs_2012.0

Reasons: many; one of them is irrigation. One consequence is that nearby areas no longer have the lake to moderate the extremes; so it is hotter in the summer and colder in the winter.

Creationism: Why Evolution is True has an interesting take on a non-Sequitur cartoon.

October 4, 2014 Posted by | creationism, economy, politics, politics/social, racism, science, Uncategorized | , | 2 Comments

Some education/academia articles

Paul Krugman: reviews a book called Seven Bad Ideas by Jeff Madrick. The idea:

In “Seven Bad Ideas: How Mainstream Economists Have Damaged America and the World,” Jeff Madrick — a contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine and a frequent writer on matters economic — argues that the professional failures since 2008 didn’t come out of the blue but were rooted in decades of intellectual malfeasance.

As a practicing and, I’d claim, mainstream economist myself, I’m tempted to quibble. How “mainstream,” really, are the bad ideas he attacks? How much of the problem is bad economic ideas per se as opposed to economists who have proved all too ready to drop their own models — in effect, reject their own ideas — when their models conflict with their political leanings? And was it the ideas of economists or the prejudices of politicians that led to so much bad policy? [...]

Such quibbles aside, “Seven Bad Ideas” tells us an important and broadly accurate story about what went wrong. Economists presented as reality an idealized vision of free markets, dressed up in fancy math that gave it a false appearance of rigor. As a result, the world was unprepared when markets went bad. Economic ideas, declared John Maynard Keynes, are “dangerous for good or evil.” And in recent years, sad to say, evil has had the upper hand.

Speaking of ideas: are we becoming afraid to make our students uncomfortable? I know what I read in the media, but I am not sure as to how accurate it is.

Note: I am not saying that students should be taught “all points of view”; some ideas have been shown to be crackpot (e. g. creationism). They shouldn’t be taught as if they are viable ideas.

Now speaking of science and religion Biologist David Barash had an article in the New York Times about the talk he has with his classes at a public university:

And that’s where The Talk comes in. It’s irresponsible to teach biology without evolution, and yet many students worry about reconciling their beliefs with evolutionary science. Just as many Americans don’t grasp the fact that evolution is not merely a “theory,” but the underpinning of all biological science, a substantial minority of my students are troubled to discover that their beliefs conflict with the course material.

Until recently, I had pretty much ignored such discomfort, assuming that it was their problem, not mine. Teaching biology without evolution would be like teaching chemistry without molecules, or physics without mass and energy. But instead of students’ growing more comfortable with the tension between evolution and religion over time, the opposite seems to have happened. Thus, The Talk.

There are a few ways to talk about evolution and religion, I begin. [..]

I CONCLUDE The Talk by saying that, although they don’t have to discard their religion in order to inform themselves about biology (or even to pass my course), if they insist on retaining and respecting both, they will have to undertake some challenging mental gymnastic routines. And while I respect their beliefs, the entire point of The Talk is to make clear that, at least for this biologist, it is no longer acceptable for science to be the one doing those routines, as Professor Gould and noma have insisted we do.

I recommend reading the entire article. I especially like Biology Professor Jerry Coyne’s critique of it:

As I mentioned two posts ago, David Barash, a biologist at the University of Washington who works on animal behavior and evolution, has a post in today’s New York Times, “God, Darwin, and my college biology class.” It’s basically an argument for the incompatibility of science and religion, and I like it a lot, not the least because I agree with him 100%.

But there’s one thing about his piece that bothers me: Barash’s article is about how he tells his animal behavior class that science and religion are incompatible. In other words, he’s making theological arguments at a public university. [...]

But in fact, and this is my beef (a small one, like a filet mignon): Barash may not be accommodating science with religion, but he’s still discussing their relationship, and his view of their incompatibility—in a science class. I wouldn’t do that, especially in a public university. One could even make the argument that he’s skirting the First Amendment here, mixing government (a state university) and religion. After all, if Eric Hedin can’t tell his students in a Ball State University science class that biology and cosmology are compatible with belief in God, why is it okay to say that they’re incompatible with God?

I share Professor Coyne’s trepidation here.

September 30, 2014 Posted by | economics, education, evolution, religion, science | , | Leave a comment

Climate change: the wrong and right

Actually, climate science is NOT settled. What is settled is that:
1. the globe is currently warming and
2. humans are having a direct negative effect on this warming.

But we aren’t sure as to what will happen in the future. THAT is hard to predict. That human activity is warming the globe is settled and reducing carbon emissions is indeed a good thing.

And if you think that you know what is what, take this quiz. Or sure, I missed one question when I hit the wrong button and cringed, but I got a couple of guesses too. There are a lot of “metric” questions (e. g. “how much”), and I only got 65 percent (better than average, but still).

Now there is no excuse for ignorance on this level (in Congress, no less).

But conservatives have a point when they point out that preserving the environment starts at home, and large, liberal gatherings generate a ton of trash left behind, even when the gathering is supposed to be about the environment. That irritates the heck out of me too.

Hey, if you want to point the finger at me: I drive a Prius (when I drive) and walk to work everyday, so I don’t drive that much!

September 23, 2014 Posted by | environment, science, social/political | , | Leave a comment

Today: 5k, football, weather, etc.

Our university has a 5K that runs right past my house and it starts in 90 minutes. So, of course, I can’t resist. :-) It is in the high 50’s so I’ll have only my lack of running conditioning to blame.

Right now, I am doing a little of everything each week: longish walks (15-20 miles), a few short runs (4-6 miles), a couple of weight sessions and a couple of 2200 yard swims (2 km). After next week’s walking marathon, I’ll probably add a swim/lifting session and cut back a little on the midweek walk.

Heel: still slightly sore; sometimes feels like mild PF..but going up on my toes doesn’t hurt?

Football
I have tickets for Illinois vs. Texas State. Texas State used to be Southwest Texas State (I-AA…now FCS) and now they are a FBS team in the Sun Belt. They lost to Navy at home (35-21); they trailed 28-0 in the second quarter and Navy ran all over them. So, this is a team that Illinois *should* be able to handle; they should be a step down from Washington. But the emphasis is on “should”; who knows until they play the game.

Navy plays Rutgers at home; THAT should be interesting. This is Navy’s second game against a Big Ten team this year. Rutgers is 2-1, having lost to Penn State last weekend.

Also of interest: Miami vs. Nebraska. Is Nebraska all smoke and mirrors or are they for real?

Issues
Weather: we are supposed to have rain in Peoria this afternoon, but not in Champaign (where the game is). We’ve had an unusually cool September but the planet, on the whole, has been warm. What is in store this winter? It could go either way. A bad winter could be bad news for us, as budget cuts has cut our plowing/salt budget.
I need to buy some decent snow boots to walk to work and to shovel.

Secularism This is a nice piece in Time Magazine which was generated by the recent incident in which the Air Force wanted to keep “So Help Me God” as a required part of the enlistment oath. They wisely recanted: (this is part of the article)

It took the threat of a lawsuit before the Air Force agreed on Wednesday to allow airmen to omit the phrase “So help me God” as part of a required oath. Until then, they claimed an airman stationed at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada was ineligible to reenlist after he crossed out the phrase on his reenlistment form.

This controversy will rile up many people of good will—not against the military, but against the airman. Why make a big deal out of words that the majority of Americans believe in? Just cross your fingers if you must, and say the words. Why rock the boat?

Here’s why: The incident betrays a subtext of intolerance and hostility toward secular people that is embedded in American culture and public institutions. The Air Force was ready to end a man’s military career because he would not submit to its religious demands.

To secular Americans, requiring an oath to God is like asking a Jewish airman to swear, “So help me Jesus” or a Christian to say, “So help me Allah.”

I love the article, but have a minor quibble with the last sentence in the quote: asking me to swear an oath to God is NOT like asking a Jew to pray to Jesus or a Christian to pray to Allah.

Asking me to pray to God is exactly like asking me to pray to the Tooth Fairy. On the other hand, asking a believer to pray to a different deity is asking them to commit blasphemy which, to a believer, is a serious offense which can cause emotional and mental anguish.

September 20, 2014 Posted by | politics, politics/social, religion, running, science, social/political | , | Leave a comment

Misconceptions: chimps, kids and assault weapons

This New York Times Sunday Review article states what was long well known: one is far more likely to get killed by small handguns than by assault rifles. Assault rifles make big news in the spectacular but relatively rare events. But: this does not mean that there is no such thing as assault weapons. This means that banning them won’t make much of a dent in gun death statistics.

Speaking of violence: It sure appears as if chimps are naturally violent toward one another. Some argue that “effect by human intervention” has not been controlled for, but seriously, this “noble savage” stuff is nonsense.

Spanking Data seems to indicate that “spare the rod, spoil the child” is nonsense.

September 18, 2014 Posted by | evolution, nature, science, social/political | , | Leave a comment

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