Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Even more interesting...

Following up from the previous post, someone asked what a cross-section of the most religious states vs. highest quality of life states would look like... well, defining "quality of life" is ambiguous at best... but I looked at this "most livable states" survey from 2007 for my cross-section... and... wow...

**** Yes, of course I am aware that correlation does not equal causation.  I just find the correlation interesting.


Branching off of this discussion over at Pharyngula, I decided to take a look at a cross-section of two studies. I took data from this study, which ranks states by how educated they are, and highlighted it with data from this study, which ranks states based on how religious they are. I used a simple color coding system for the highlighting: red for the most religious to green for the least... the results are certainly interesting, I think...

Monday, December 28, 2009

Been too long...

It's been a long time since I've posted... my life has undergone some upheaval and it's kept me from keeping up with the things I've wanted to talk about or express to those of you that do stop by and read this blog occasionally.

But I think part of my personal reconstruction project needs to be to get back to writing... and this is a good place to start.

So first of all, Happy holidays to all of you, whatever you celebrate or observe... I hope you are all well and of good health and spirit.

Now, on to my post for today... it starts, as many of my rants so often do, with a post from the venerable PZ Myers at Pharyngula. In this post, PZ points out the publishing of yet another in a seemingly endless string of books serving as useless apologetics for religion... I won't bore you by repeating his thoughts, you can visit the post and read it for yourself...

I did however leave a comment in the comment thread. Upon reading it, though, my thoughts are incomplete in just that comment, so I will repeat it here in this entry, along with the rest of my thoughts on the issue:

What really irks me is the seemingly never-ending source of funds for these people to vomit up book after book of empty, base-less, vapid apologetics for religion and they all say essentially the same thing: "Science doesn't know everything, religion makes you feel good and what's wrong with that, Hitler, Mao and Stalin were atheists, and without religion we'd all go around murdering and raping each other at will".

Seriously, it's nothing short of a mass-mailing propaganda PR stunt masking the desperate, dying throngs of a belief system that is utterly incompatible with the modern world and current knowledge... Faith has no new ideas... nothing to offer at this point in time... the social and cultural advantages it once provided are long past their usefulness... they have nothing of substance to offer, so they instead attack the reasoned and rational, who have concluded that there is no magic sky fairy and that we're probably better off shedding the heavy coat of religion, as evil, soul-less, hate-filled villains.

It's pathetic and, I believe, transparent. Unfortunately the insular, lazy and under-educated majority of the US population still has too much of this poison indoctrinated from the time they were old enough to understand language, and it has been done so masterfully that questioning your beliefs has itself been purged from the cognitive abilities of the faith-addled.

While in places like the UK and many Scandinavian countries, religion has begun to be treated with casual indifference, here in the US it is still accorded special privileges, and the religious still expect, and in many cases, demand deference.

A large portion of the US population continues to carry on with the deluded mis-conception that this country was founded on faith (more specifically, christian faith, of course). This is, of course, absurd, and would make founders like Jefferson and Franklin turn in their graves, but it is the attitude of the "Fox News" fellowship, fed by self-righteous, self-concerned hate mongering egomaniacs like Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh. These people know their audience. They understand that many people don't trust government, even while collecting and living off of government initiated social programs like unemployment, welfare, medicaid and social security... they know that false patriotism and thinly-veiled racism appeals to the large portion of the population that has been made afraid of the world outside of the US by the fear / hate tactics of the Republican leadership… a tactic still employed today and used in almost every Beck broadcast. They are master manipulators that know that the right combination of anger, conspiracy theory, and claims of “we’ll tell you the truth no-one else has the guts to” will appeal to the downtrodden, hard-working but struggling, god-fearing and prideful majority of the US population looking for someone to blame for the state of the world… of THEIR world, and will get them to vote against their own interests and to toss aside their own inherent, personal freedoms just to make sure that no-one “takes their guns”, that “gays can’t marry”, and that “THEIR god will ultimately win the war and cast out the evil muslims once and for all”.

For myself, I refuse to be one of those people, and I will not have my fears exploited by those who would who would do so for their own personal gain. I will not be manipulated by those who know that ratings = dollar signs, and truth is a casualty of the act of exploitation of the lowest common denominator of the US citizenship.

No… I am free… free to find truth using the tools of logic and reason. I am free from fear of eternal punishment meted out by capricious, inconsistent deities… I am free from having morality defined by ancient, inconsistent and conveniently adjusted and re-translated texts… I am free to do right because it’s right, and avoid doing wrong because it’s wrong. I am free to be responsible for my own actions (and believe me, my actions have caused my life to keen and kilter in directions I never wanted… but they are MY actions, and I ask forgiveness only from those whom I have affected).

I am free because I won’t submit to having my freedom defined and constrained by that which has served to restrain, restrict, and enslave human progress for over two thousand years.

I am free because I don’t have religion to define the conditions of my freedom. I am free because I don’t believe. Why not be free yourself?

------ So... with that, I hope to return to posting on a more regular basis... those who frequent this blog or know me from Pharyngula will know what to expect... those who don't... well... I hope you're not easily offended.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Right-wingers give us yet another reason to create a level of crazy higher than "batshit".

Courtesy of PZ Myers at Pharyngula, on the heels of Obama being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the out-of-their-minds crazy lunatics that are supported by semi-news agency WhirledNutDaily (aka WorldNetDaily) have begun an "Impeach Obama" campaign. You have to read the post at Pharyngula to get a real look at just how evil, hate-filled, overtly racist and just plain insane the right wing has become.

Look, we can debate the merits of Obama receiving this award... I think it's premature and politically driven, yet not entirely undeserved... even Obama calls himself "unworthy" to receive the award. But impeachment? Really? Like I said, we need a new word for the level of crazy being displayed by these right-wing fruit-loops... cause "batshit" just don't cover it.

Of course, the piece goes out if its way to call Obama and his supporters "America-haters", all the while not realizing who the real "America Haters" are... people who publicly root for the president to fail, pray for his death... I could go on, but Pharyngula commenter Alison Miers does a much better job of summing it up, so I urge you to read what she wrote, as it's one of the best summations of who really are the America Haters:

Listen, WingNutDaily, there's something you need to understand. This "hate-America" crowd of which you does not live where you think it lives. Team Hate America lives in backwater mountain villages where frothing semi-literates stockpile ammo and bottled water and murder Census workers. It lives in the town hall meetings where people would rather continue letting our healthcare system simultaneously bankrupt us AND deliver underwhelming outcomes, than do anything that resembles what they do in...*hushed* France. It lives in the churches where ministers tell their congregations to pray for the death of the democratically elected president. It lives with people who use Socialism as their bogeyman without the slightest idea what Socialism means. It lives in the homes of people who shoot doctors and blow up clinics while declaiming about the "sanctity of life." It lives in homes where children die because their parents think using medicine means disobeying God. It lives in the right wing of Congress with elected officials who would rather drag America into the Second World than allow the president and the elected officials of his party to succeed in their legislative goals. It is in the schoolboards headed by people who oppose public education and actively undermine the instruction of science, who want to see our nation's children not just ignorant, but filled with misinformation, rather than live without Jesus.

I can't speak for other lefties, and I can't speak for Obama, either, but I can say that I don't hate America. I don't hate the country that taught you how to read and write and maintains an infrastructure such that you can maintain a website and other lunatics can follow it. I don't hate the country that will pay for your medical care once you reach a certain age while allowing you to rail against the evils of government power. I don't hate this country at all. I hate people like you.

Damn, that was well put... I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did. I only wish I was the one who wrote it.

The bottom line here is, we should all be frightened about the prospects of the attitude shown by this crazy WND impeachment campaign becoming too widespread. Just read it... it is filled with fear-mongering, dishonest, hate-filled propaganda, and is the sort of thing that makes me worry about just how far the extreme right-wing will go in their obvious attempts at "defeating" Obama, and the very real and violent tension that seems to be building up like a ground-swell among the most extreme on the right. We're getting into real concern territory here, I fear.

You read that impeachment document... read it and ask yourself if that's the sort of thing that would be put together by people who love anything but their own personal interests and prejudices? It's certainly not the type of document that would be put forth by someone claiming to love America.

Monday, September 21, 2009

H1N1 (Swine Flu), regular “flu”, and the common cold – what you should know

This will be a lengthy post, but it’s worthwhile and should provide you plenty of info regarding the H1N1 virus. If you discover an error with anything I’ve written here, please let me know in the comments section.

There’s a lot of fear going around the Finger Lakes region of New York these days, which has been only heightened by the recent report of the death of a Cornell Student due to complications from the H1N1 virus, or “Swine Flu” as it is known more commonly. So what should you do? Should you be afraid? Should you pull your kids from school at the first sign of a child’s sneezing? How do you know the difference between Swine Flu, common flu, and common cold?

Well, here are some things you should know:

First, the good news: The FDA has given approval, after trials and testing, to 4 manufacturers to produce an H1N1 vaccine. It will be available Oct. 15th to the highest risk patients (children 6 mos. to 18 yrs old, woman who are pregnant, and those with chronic health problem like asthma, diabetes, lung disease, etc… and health care workers). Shortly thereafter there should be enough of the vaccine available to all those who would like it. And before you even think it, NO, this vaccine, or any other for that matter, will not cause autism in your children (that’s a discussion for another day, so let’s move on). Its side-effects will be similar to other flu vaccines... namely, mild flu-like symptoms.

*** Oh, and as a side note… for those of you who still have the gall to question evolution, this is evolution in action, folks… if not for the predictive power of the theory of evolution, vaccines like this would not be possible (here’s an example, if you’re interested: ). So if you still want to doubt that evolution is true, then by all means, skip getting this vaccine (or any others for that matter). But I digress…

Ok… so now that we know there will be a vaccine available and soon, let’s focus on the hysteria surrounding H1N1.

How widespread is H1N1? Well, that’s part of the reason for the concern regarding H1N1… it spreads quite easily and fairly fast. The CDC currently reports 21 states (including New York) with widespread H1N1 activity. So yes, it spreads rapidly. Getting vaccinated as soon as it’s available will help slow the spread of the virus.

How is H1N1 different from normal seasonal flu? Well, in many ways, and for many people, it will be tough to distinguish Swine flu from seasonal flu. Swine flu has a tendency to have additional symptoms such as violent vomiting and diarrhea, but not all who get it will have these symptoms. Also, seasonal flu is generally more of a danger to the elderly and those with weak or compromised immune systems. The H1N1 has so far shown a tendency to be more potent in young people between 6 mos. and 25 years, and pregnant women are also more at risk. There is some debate as to the reason why the elderly seem to be less at risk for H1N1, but one popular theory is that many of the elderly have already been exposed to a predecessor of the Swine Flu (although not the exact same virus… H1N1 is a “novel virus”, meaning it has not been detected in human populations before) in prior outbreaks in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s and therefore may already possess antibodies for the virus.

So if it’s so similar to the seasonal flu in terms of symptoms, why is it seen as such a dangerous threat? This is mainly due to the fact that it’s such a new and unique strain of virus. When we are infants, we normally get exposed to about 99% of the germs and viruses we will ever encounter in our lives… during that time the body’s immune system produces antibodies that fight off these infections… this is the reason infants seem to get sick so much more often than when they get older, (and it’s also the reason that we give vaccines to our infants… vaccines are essentially engineered strains of uncommon but strong viruses that will help the body produce antibodies without making it really sick in the process). But, the benefit is that the body remembers these antibodies, and when it detects the same viruses later in life, it already has a “memory” of the antibodies needed to fight the infection off and can do say rapidly, in a matter of days or even hours. However, when the body is infected with a new virus, one that is has no antibodies for, it takes about two weeks for the body to produce antibodies that will effectively attack the virus. The problem is that during that time, an especially powerful or rapidly spreading virus (like the H1N1 appears to be) can cause too much damage and lead to sever illness before the immune system can effectively produce and release the correct antibodies.

How contagious is H1N1? It is highly contagious, as is the seasonal flu. In fact, if you have the virus, you can be contagious 24 hours before showing any symptoms. This is why it is important to maintain good sanitary habits during every flu season, such as using hand sanitizer regularly, sneezing into your arm, washing your hands regularly and not sharing utensils and other objects with other people. These are good tips for every flu season and are not meant just to prevent H1N1.

How can I tell if I’ve got the common cold, flu, or Swine flu? Well, all three can have similar symptoms… the main differences will be in the degree of those symptoms and the length of time you have them. The common cold will give you aches, pains, stuffiness, coughing and sneezing, and sometimes mild fever, but symptoms should get better in a couple of days and subside altogether within 3 or 4 days. Seasonal flu and H1N1 will have many common symptoms similar to the common cold, but will include a high fever, nausea and more sever muscle aches and pains, and will not improve as quickly as a common cold. If you have symptoms you believe to be the flu, please see your doctor immediately… the only way to know for sure if you have H1N1 is with a flu test.

Should I be afraid of H1N1? Afraid? No, not at this time. Aware and cautious? Yes. The H1N1 virus is indeed a new and potent strain of flu, but the seasonal flu itself kills 36,000 people every year. We are better equipped as a society to handle this type of outbreak than we were early in the 20th century when Swine flu wiped out millions. A vaccine is being made available and while you should take precautions to be aware of the symptoms and make sure you use common sense hygiene precautions, you should probably do that during every flu season, H1N1 or not.

So, now that we’ve covered some basic H1N1 questions, let’s talk about the vaccine.

If I get the H1N1 vaccine, am I covered for the seasonal flu as well? No. The seasonal flu vaccine was developed earlier in the year and has the 3 most common strains of flu predicted to hit the US this year in it. The H1N1 vaccine was developed separately and will only target the H1N1 virus. Please make the effort to receive both vaccines.

Is the vaccine safe? According to the CDC, yes… the H1N1 vaccine should carry essentially the same side effects as the seasonal flu vaccine. Like other vaccines, the side-effects will mainly be mild… headaches, mild fever, mild nausea, muscle aches… etc. However you must take allergic considerations into account, just like with any vaccine. People allergic to eggs, for example, should not get this vaccine.

Will the vaccine help me if I already have H1N1? No. Vaccines are meant to prevent disease, not fight it. If you already have H1N1 you will have to rely on already existing antiviral medication such as Tamiflu.

Will the vaccine be harmful if I’ve gotten H1N1 in the past? According to the CDC, no. There is no harm in being vaccinated if you’ve been infected with H1N1 in the past.

Is the H1N1 vaccine available as a shot or a nasal spray? Both. There is a shot available and a nasal spray. The two are different as to what they contain. The shot contains an “inactivated” vaccine… meaning it has fragments of the killed virus. The nasal spray contains a live, but weakened, virus that does not cause the flu itself, and is meant for healthy people age 2 – 49 years of age. Both are effective, but at this time only the shot is approved for pregnant women.

Who should get vaccinated? Initially, the vaccine will only be available to those in the highest risk categories. However, once the vaccine becomes widely available to everyone, I encourage everyone to get it. Getting vaccinated increases herd immunity and reduces the ability of the virus to spread quickly throughout the population. Additionally, if you know people who stubbornly and ignorantly refuse to get vaccinated despite studies that show it to be safe and the obvious benefit to not just themselves but the rest of us, I would avoid them like… well… like the Swine flu.

Where can I find information on H1N1 that is independent, and not sensationalized media hysteria? The CDC is the best source on information on H1N1. There you will find all the information you need regarding H1N1, how fast it’s spreading, its effect on the US population, and availability on the vaccine, as well answers to many of the questions I’ve laid out here. The CDC page on the H1N1 virus can be found here:

Also, the World Health Organization (WHO) offers a wealth of information on the H1N1 virus here:

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Let them put their money where their loud, angry, ignorant mouths are...

Ah, yes... we do so love our republican whacko teabaggers, don't we? Well, if they are going to be true to their stand and insane claims that the US is becoming a socialist nation, then by all means they really should sign the following oath... I urge all of you to get all the loyal teabaggers and libertarians to sign it... because after all, it's what they truly believe and are spending so much time and effort rallying behind, right? Right?

So, without further ado, here is your teabagger pledge.

(By the way... this is of course SATIRE people, and while pointed and fairly accurate, is still meant to be an absurd over-statement of the definition of "socialism" in response to the anti-public option health-care assholes that think such a thing can reasonably be called "socialism". If you don't get that, I can't help you.)

The Teabagger Socialist-Free Purity Pledge

I, ________________________________, do solemnly swear to uphold the principles of a socialism-free society and heretofore pledge my word that I shall strictly adhere to the following:

I will complain about the destruction of 1st Amendment Rights in this country, while I am duly being allowed to exercise my 1st Amendment Rights.

I will complain about the destruction of my 2ndAmendment Rights in this country, while I am duly >being allowed to exercise my 2ndAmendment rights by legally but brazenly brandishing unconcealed firearms in public.

I will foreswear the time-honored principles of fairness, decency, and respect by screaming unintelligible platitudes regarding tyranny, Nazi-ism, and socialism at public town halls. Also.

I pledge to eliminate all government intervention in my life. I will abstain from the use of and participation in any socialist goods and services including but not limited to the following:

  • Social Security

  • Medicare/Medicaid

  • State Children's Health Insurance Programs (SCHIP)

  • Police, Fire, and Emergency Services

  • US Postal Service

  • Roads and Highways

  • Air Travel (regulated by the socialist FAA)

  • The US Railway System

  • Public Subways and Metro Systems

  • Public Bus and Lightrail Systems

  • Rest Areas on Highways

  • Sidewalks

  • All Government-Funded Local/State Projects (e.g., see Iowa 2009federal senate appropriations--

  • Public Water and Sewer Services (goodbye socialist toilet, shower, dishwasher, kitchen sink, outdoor hose!)

  • Public and State Universities and Colleges

  • Public Primary and Secondary Schools

  • Sesame Street

  • Publicly Funded Anti-Drug Use Education for Children

  • Public Museums

  • Libraries

  • Public Parksand Beaches

  • State and National Parks

  • Public Zoos

  • Unemployment Insurance

  • Municipal Garbage and Recycling Services

  • Treatment at Any Hospital or Clinic That Ever Received Funding From Local, Stateor Federal Government (pretty much all of them)

  • Medical Services and Medications That Were Created or Derived From Any Government Grant or Research Funding (again, pretty much all of them)

  • Socialist Byproducts of Government Investment Such as Duct Tape and Velcro (Nazi-NASA Inventions)

  • Use of the Internets, email, and networked computers, as the DoD's ARPANET was the basis for subsequent computer networking

  • Foodstuffs, Meats, Produce and Crops That Were Grown With, Fed With, Raised With or That Contain Inputs From Crops Grown With Government Subsidies

  • Clothing Made from Crops (e.g. cotton) That Were Grown With or That Contain Inputs From Government Subsidies

  • If a veteran of the government-run socialist US military, I will forego my VA benefits and insist on paying for my own medical care

I will not tour socialist government buildings like the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

I pledge to never take myself, my family, or my children on a tour of the following types of socialist

locations, including but not limited to:

  • Smithsonian Museums such as the Air and Space Museum or Museum of American History

  • The socialist Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson Monuments

  • The government-operated Statue of Liberty

  • The Grand Canyon

  • The socialist World War II and Vietnam Veterans Memorials

  • The government-run socialist-propaganda location known as Arlington National Cemetery

  • All other public-funded socialist sites, whether it be in my state or in Washington, DC

I will urge my Member of Congress and Senators to forego their government salary and government-provided healthcare.

I will oppose and condemn the government-funded and therefore socialist military of the United States of America.

I will boycott the products of socialist defense contractors such as GE, Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, Raytheon, Humana, FedEx, General Motors, Honeywell, and hundreds of others that are paid by our socialist government to produce goods for our socialist army.

I will protest socialist security departments such as the Pentagon, FBI, CIA, Department of Homeland Security, TSA, Department of Justice and their socialist employees.

Upon reaching eligible retirement age, I will tear up my socialist Social Security checks.

Upon reaching age 65, I will forego Medicare and pay for my own private health insurance until I die.

SWORN ON A BIBLE AND SIGNED THIS DAY OF ____________ IN THE YEAR ______________.

___________________________ ___________________________

Signed Printed Name/Town and State

Saturday, September 5, 2009

I'm not about to sit idly by...

... while right-wing clowns like Hannity, Limbaugh, O'Reilly and Beck continue their attempts at lying, mis-representation and fear-mongering in an attempt to attack the President... this time aimed at school-children and gullible parents.

For the most part, the Northeast has a fairly liberal and progressive bent, and frankly speaking, I never thought the stupidity and insanity that has overtaken Texas and Virginia would spread up here... but alas it has. My daughter's school sent out an email informing parents that Obama's speech to the children of the US would be reviewed and then a decision made as to whether or not it will be shown to the children. As you can imagine, I was outraged, and more than a little surprised. I responded with the email below... (I've removed the school name and location out of consideration for my family and the school).

Dear xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx,

Thank you for taking the time to send this email concerning President Obama's speech to our nation's school children. Xxxxxxxxxxxx, while I understand the school administration's desire to be mindful and considerate of the concerns of the student's parents, I must confess to some confusion regarding your email. In it you state that there will be decision made as to whether or not the children will be shown the President's speech? I must object! Xxxxxxxxxxxxx School is still, last time I checked, a public school... a publicly funded ward of the State of New York and the government of the United States of America. And like him or not, President Obama is the elected leader of our government, and our country's president. Is the administration of this public school seriously considering censorship with regards to a speech made by the President and directed at the school children of our country, all in order to appease the desperate and misguided attempts of a vocal minority of people with a transparent goal of attacking this President by any means necessary?

Whatever your politics, whatever your beliefs, whatever your thoughts are concerning President Obama, the fact remains that he IS our President, our government's elected leader, and the very idea of a public institution even considering an act of censorship of this kind leaves me simply appalled.

While it may not seem convenient to those waging this wedge-driving campaign to remember, this is hardly the first time a President has delivered a speech to the children of the US. In 1991, then President George H.W. Bush delivered a speech to school children in a widely broadcast teleconference. The message was hardly one of trying to convert school-kids to a political ideology. It was a speech meant to encourage kids to work heard, stay in school, and learn. It was an admirable effort that should no more have been opposed than the proposed speech by President Obama.

The thought that President Obama would present a speech to children that would somehow encourage them towards a specific political ideology is simply laughable, and is just another in a long succession of fear tactics being employed by a small minority with a specific goal. And I for one will not sit by idly while a public school considers such an act of censorship.

I encourage you to please use common sense in this matter, and not buy into the hysteria simply as a matter of appeasement. A speech by the highest elected official in our country to our schoolchildren encouraging them to work hard and be successful can be nothing but a positive thing. I would recommend showing the speech to the school as a whole, and invite parents along to watch with their children if they wish. This will get the parents involved and help provide context if the parents feel it is needed.

However, I will strongly resist the school being complicit in an act of censorship. I have known the school administration to use common sense and intelligent consideration with issues in the past, and it is my hope that this will continue.

Thank you, xxxxxxxxxxxxxx, for your time in reading this letter.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Miracles - just more proof that god's an a-hole.

I’ve talked about my disdain for organized religion before… most people of course accuse me of hating people who believe in religion. This is untrue… most people I know subscribe to one religion or another, and in fact my best friend is quite happily religious. I have no problem with people believing in god, for the most part… it’s the organizations of religion that I really have a problem with.

The reasons are many… they are the purveyors of the “great lies”, they assert truths without evidence, they offer forgiveness for abhorrent behavior by simply affirming belief, they harm progress by stifling independent thought, they stunt intellectual growth by promoting the concept of belief in things despite contrary evidence. They govern and control on a principal of fear of eternal and horrific punishment. And what’s worse, they can never be contented with keeping their beliefs to themselves. Almost all religions have the same goal: convert as many people as possible to your belief. The term “missionary” is one of reverence and respect to the religious, while all it is to me is an asshole who insists him / herself on other people whether they like it or not.

In addition, religion instills people with a false sense of hope, and a belief that problems can be solved without action, by simply praying. How can this lead to a productive, affluent, progressive society? Additionally, religion is notoriously exclusivist, and bigoted by its very nature. There are thousands of religions... in fact, according to the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (2006), there are over 38,000 denominations of christianity alone. And each one thinks every other one has got it wrong… so much so that despite believing in the same god and reading from the same essential 2000 year old texts, protestant and catholic members of the same god still actively kill each other over who’s fucking interpretation is more correct. This is the insanity that religion breeds in people. It removes objectivity and creates insular, ignorant followers who believe without question, and accept without consideration.

It’s with this preface I come to the case of the recent “miracle” at Lourdes. According to the Catholic News Agency, via a report from the Italian news agency ANSA, a woman who was reportedly wheelchair-bound, stricken with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), bathed in the waters at Lourdes and immediately was cured… and now she is walking and even running… all signs of her disease apparently completely gone.

Now, first of all, let’s attack the “miracle cure” thing directly… these things are almost never truly miracles. They nearly always end up having some mundane, if not medically cool, answer once looked into more closely. In this case, despite the quotes from her doctor, I’m left unconvinced that she was “cured”. What was her actual condition when she was at Lourdes? What was she doing just prior? She was apparently medically diagnosed with ALS, so was she participating in any drug trials? Was she mis-diagnosed? Was she examined immediately after Lourdes? No… “miracles” never have these questions available, nevermind actually answered. In fact, interestingly enough, there has been an ongoing medical trial for ALS treatment involving Lithium, which has shown the ability to halt or even completely stop the progression of ALS. Where has this trial been taking place? In Italy, interestingly enough. I have no direct knowledge of it, but would I be surprised to find out that this woman was part of such a trial? Nope… in fact I find it far more likely than the possibility that she was miraculously cured by magic water.

But for the sake of this discussion, let’s just take the claim of a “miracle cure” at face value. So she was cured, by god, at Lourdes. She alone, out of the hundreds of thousands that visited Lourdes this past year alone, was worthy. We’ll accept that premise for this discussion. Reports are that the crowd at Lourdes wept and praised god when the woman got up out of her chair. They were all grateful. GRATEFUL! This is what I don’t understand about christians, and the religious in general. At best, if this is a true miracle cure, does it not show god to be capricious and inconsistent? Millions of people have come to Lourdes… millions upon millions… many very sick, all believers. I’m sure many of the afflicted have suffered far worse and lived a far more pious life than this woman, and yet she was chosen to be cured? Why? What could be the possible reason that god would do this? If god has the power to remove pain and suffering instantaneously at his whim, why must one make the effort of going through ritualistic behavior like traveling to Lourdes, which may be painful and difficult, if not impossible for some, in order for that suffering to be alleviated? If this woman was worthy of being cured, why not just cure her? And if making a statement for god was the point, why make it so rare?

Additionally, if this woman was so worthy of being cured, why make her suffer the disease in the first place? And what of the others? Why are they unworthy? And why do they not ask this question of themselves?

I’ve asked these questions of the religious, and invariably I get the same answers. It's apologetics at its worst. The most common has to do with why god allows her and so many others to suffer. Invariably the answer is that we must suffer in this life to become closer to god and to enjoy the afterlife, or some bullshit like that. OK… fine. So god allows suffering as some sort of “penance”. So does that mean that this woman who has been cured and doesn’t suffer anymore will not be getting into heaven? If that is the case, I’d bet the woman would gladly take her ALS back to make sure she gets into heaven… if that’s not the case, then why not just remove suffering for all who believe in him? Why allow it for some and remove it for others? It seems capricious and arbitrary. If there is a god, then he’s a monster and I’d rather not know him anyhow.

Once the questions start getting tough, where the answers begin to contradict each other, most inevitably resort to the religious “ace-in-the-hole” catch-all answer: god works in mysterious ways, and you can’t know his mind, and to assume you can would be arrogant.

Great. Well that’s just great. So god can continue to be shown as a capricious, arbitrary, sadistic, petulant child with no consistency who insists on worship but refuses to show evidence for himself, and continually tests our faith just to prove how great he is, but we are to accept it anyhow because we can't know his mind? Fuck that. I want no part of it. Frankly none of it makes any sense, and the older I get the more clear to me it becomes that the only rational, reasonable thing to believe is that it’s all complete hogwash - ancient mythology that served to control populations and answer questions we didn’t yet have answers to. Every answer religion provides is so irrational, inconsistent, arbitrary and vague as to not merit consideration unless you have already been pre-programmed to accept a specific set of answers.

For too long, the term “taking it on faith” has been seen as a virtue. It’s not. It’s an admission of willful ignorance. The world needs less of that, not more.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Daily FAIL - Terrifying Teddy...

What deranged dentist thought this would be a cute way to show little kids teeth? This is about the creepiest teddy I've ever seen... I'm gonna see this thing in my nightmares.

fail owned pwned pictures

Friday, July 24, 2009

A man with a true super-power: stupidity.

I've talked about people who claim to have supernatural powers before... for some reason, many people simply can't accept reality for what it is. For them, super-human powers and ghostly spirits and predicting the future simply MUST be true. I don't really get it.

We are fragile humans... some people are stronger, or smarter, or taller, or more beautiful, but we all have physical limitations. No-one is immortal, no-one has super powers, and no, sorry, no-one can talk to dead people (but that's a topic for another post).

Still and all, people claim these abilities all the time... sometimes they are true charlatans looking to bilk credulous people out of their money, and sometimes they actually convince themselves that they do have these abilities. The latter group are less dishonest, but more dangerous because they truly believe it. A charlatan will know when he's gone too far before he's done any real harm... a true believer won't.

Most times, it's other people that are damaged as a result of the claims of these people... but sometimes, these kooks are so convinced of their own supernatural abilities that they will put themselves in harms way... usually to their own detriment.

That brings us to today's whackaloon, Dmitry Butakov, who believed that he had "super-powers"... specifically the ability to ingest poisonous liquids without being harmed. It seems that Dmitry's body did have a somewhat high tolerance for certain types of toxic liquids. For example, he once drank some dissolvent in front of reporters and survived. He decided to use his "super-powers" to gain fame and perhaps fortune.

You'll notice that I've been talking about Dmitri in the past-tense. You can probably guess why. After setting up a demonstration with reporters in which he drank about 10 oz. of anti-freeze, he gave a couple of interviews, then started to feel sick. He later died, predictably, of blood poisoning.

I'd wrap this up with a lesson about stupidly believing in super (or supernatural) powers, but if you didn't get that already, I'm not sure it would help you anyhow.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Book burning... a ghastly demand made by ghastly people.

What is it with religious right-wingers and burning books?

That's the demand being put forth by some right-wing-nuts in a small town in Wisconsin. It seems the local library had the nerve to put some books on the shelves of the public library. Books that dealt with some fairly controversial issues. Specifically books that talked at length and in detail about homosexuality.

These books were written about, and targeted for, young adults, and were correctly placed in the young adult section. You can find these books at most libraries across the country, and find them in the young adult section. You see... it's a library. A public library. Its responsibility is to offer reading material to the public community. It is not responsible for censoring the content of that material or restricting access to that material based on arbitrary moral decisions demanded by religious authority.

Unfortunately too many of the residents of West Bend, WI don't fully understand the First Amendment, nor do they fully grasp the slippery slope they are planting their moral flag upon. And if that's not bad enough, they can't be bothered to simply voice their opinions... no, in traditional christian fashion, they must resort to threats of violence and damage to public property. It's a long-standing religious tradition: "believe what I believe or I'll beat the shit out of you".

Interestingly, the two people who started this whole mess, Jim and Ginny Maziarka, while totally ridiculous for believing they have the right to impress their morality on the community at large, are not the most unreasonable. They disagreed with the content, and petitioned that it should be placed in the "adult" section and marked as "sexually explicit". While completely wrong in that assessment, the request is not inappropriate and they went about it the right way. They even asked the library, if nothing else, to offer books that affirm hetero-sexuality. This is also not an unreasonable request, assuming those books do not incite hatred and violence against the homosexual community (or ANY community for that matter). I'm always in favor of libraries offering as many varied opinions on a topic as possible.

Ginny Maziarka began blogging about the issue, and that brought the righteously batshit crazy out of the woodwork... and that's where things start to get surreal. People began calling for the jobs of the library board... one man stood up during a meeting on the subject and told the library director he should be tarred and feathered! Another man, Robert Braun, who is 74 and a professed staunch christian, actually filed a claim along with 4 other "elderly" men to have the book burned! In the 21st century we actually have adult men calling for book-burnings.

Anger, hatred, violence, and destruction. That's the christian response to that with which they do not agree. It has been that way for 2000 years and shows no signs of changing. And burning books is the absolute worst form of ignorance and censorship, and is generally an action reserved for only the most hate-filled, vile idiots among us. I've said this before, but this is why I have such a problem with religious accomodationists. Religion can't be happy to leave the rest of us alone... it insists itself... its self-serving morality and dogma, upon everyone else, and does so often violently.

Thankfully, we continue to educate people in this country... and the tide is beginning to turn. The elderly, hateful christian fundamentalists like Mr. Braun are slowly dying out... and more and more we are seeing people stand up for rational, intelligent action and behavior. For example, in this case we have Maria Hanrahan, who started her own blog in opposition to that of Ginny Maziarka, calling for free speech and parental responsibility for what their children read and learn about. Her quote is what I would expect from a rational, intelligent person:

"I'm against any other party telling me what's appropriate for my child and what isn't," said Hanrahan, 40, who also created a West Bend Parents for Free Speech group. "We don't mean to say these are appropriate for everyone, but we don't feel they should be set apart from other materials or restricted from the young-adult section."
We need more of that type of intelligent discourse from our vocal citizens. Too often it's the angry, hate filled mob that have the loudest voice and brightest spotlight... It's good to see a shining light like Maria Hanrahan glowing in the darkness.

The good news: the library board voted to keep the controversial books right where they are. It was the only correct decision.

The bad news: in typical fashion, the city council voted not to renew the board members when their current terms expire. Which means the city could put new board members in place that could then decide to restrict access to the books or remove them altogether.

I hope they do, because thanks to people like Maria Hanrahan it looks like they'll have a legal fight on their hands... one that they shouldn't, and won't, win. Good for her. I said it a few posts earlier... it's about damn time we grew up as a society.


By the way, if any of you are interested, the two main books in question are The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, and Baby be-bop by Francesca Lia Block. Neither has ever been classified as "adult" or "sexually explicit" by any official authority.

Get in the sack!

We need more comedians like this guy... rationalists are too often portrayed as being humorless and boring. This made me chuckle out loud. Enjoy, and please, send this any of your friends who are into "alternative medicine" and the like.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Why I'm an atheist... and refuse to hide it...

The meat of this post is a few paragraphs below, but I wanted to share some thoughts first...

As many of you know or have already guessed, I am an atheist. Contrary to popular belief, I don't kill babies or eat puppies as a result. I simply have no reason, not a single shred of proof or evidence, for the existence of a god or gods. Gods of all sorts have come and gone throughout our history... some have faded away into myth, like the Greek and Roman gods of old, while some have maintained a foothold in modern society, like Christianity, Islam and Buddhism. All religions, from ancient Egypt to Sumeria to Aztec Mexico, have the same basic goal: control. Religion is a means of controlling a society and its population. Religion initially springs from a need to put answers around natural phenomena that a culture is unable to explain through mundane explanation, and more often then not fail when human knowledge expands to a point where religious explanations are overturned in favor of empirical evidence.

This is perfectly displayed with the collapse of ancient Greek religion. Over time, it became obvious through observation and application of scientific method that a giant, immortal being was not throwing lightning down from the clouds, that the sun did not ride across the sky in a chariot.

At any rate, that desire to explain the unknown is quickly used by those who wish to wield power over a group of people. It's an easy thing to do, really. If you are a member of an early society, and you want to be in charge, simply assign mysterious and frightening phenomena to supernatural forces, and then claim that you speak to, and therefor FOR, those forces. If you are convincing enough, you will instill enough fear of this possibility into the society. Thus religion is born, and your community is now under the control of that religion. The problem of course arises when someone else from somewhere else comes along with different answers from a different supernatural being... and depending on how convincing that person is, you might have a problem on your hands (Christians call this missionary work, by the way).

I think that over the course of our development as humans we've needed that structure... that ability to assign something to the things we don't understand, in order to function and start crawling out of the caves and start living in organized, fruitful communities. Religion has embedded parables into our culture that teach some basic lessons of right and wrong, and convey the customs of the time. The biggest problem I have with chrsitianity now is that too often christians look to a literal interpretation of the bible, a book written 2000 years ago by barely literate goat-herders. The lessons were relevant to the culture and society of the time, but they do not translate well to today's culture. The bible is full of hateful racist and misogynistic verbiage that was far more commonplace and acceptable in the time and place it was written. It is the same with other religions, including islam. Unfortunately there are many cultures who still enforce a strict adherence to these writings, and women and minorities are still persecuted and oppressed as a result to this day.


I was raised an Irish catholic in a section of Boston that was, and still is, very religious. I was an alter boy for a time and was confirmed when I was about 12. However, I was also a fairly intelligent and very curious young man, and as a result of the very teachings I was given to become confirmed, I began to have serious questions and concerns about the writings in the bible. So I began to research some of this stuff, and actually read the bible for the very first time. I was amazed at how much I was expected to swallow. The more I learned, the more and more clear it became that the bible was no more factually correct than Aesop's fables. I think it's safe to say I was an atheist by the time I was 18.

But, being an atheist in the mid-80's in Boston was not something you could just proclaim. Even then, I wouldn't admit to being an atheist... to those who would ask I would simply say "I'm not sure what I believe" and leave it at that. I spent many years playing the role of the agnostic for fear of the stigma attached to atheists.

As I got older and more educated, my refusal to accept religious claims was only reinforced, and I began to read books about the atrocities committed in the name of religion (the crusades, the Inquisition, to name a couple) and I began to embrace my atheism even more. I had become an atheist because I was unable to accept the obvious problems with religious doctrine, but I've become a more outspoken atheist as I've gotten older because religion continues to make it impossible for me to do otherwise. I've come to feel that religion does far more harm than good, and continues to be nothing more than a means of control over a population. And outside of the abject inhumanity of fundamentalist islamic sects in the middle-east, there is no better example of this than the Roman Catholic Church of which I was once a member.

And there is no better example than the story of the 9-year-old Brazilian girl who was raped and became pregnant. This poor, innocent little girl was raped by her step-father and became pregnant... with twins. Carrying twins to term at her age would likely have killed the little girl, so her family and her doctor decided an abortion was the only safe, humane thing to do. Of course, the Roman Catholic Church doesn't understand the concept of humane action when it opposes its outdated dogma. The local bishop ex-communicated the doctor and her family for having an abortion. The little girl would have been ex-communicated too, but catholic doctrine does not allow for ex-communication of people under the age of 18. While this is absurd, of course, it is not all that surprising. The catholic church's position on abortion is that the blob of cells is far more important than a living, breathing 9-year-old. And you may think this is just something that happened because it's Brazil and they are more fanatical... well you'd be wrong. The Vatican has weighed in on this, and has defended the decision of the bishop. A vatican official was quoted as saying "This is not just theory. And you can't start backpedaling just because the real-life situation carries a certain human weight." Yup... you read that correctly. According to the vatican, strict adherence to doctrine is paramount, and exceptions can not be made under any circumstances.

Yes, ladies and gentleman... it is time to grow up as a society. These are not the governing morals we want to continue to be driven by. Religion is never content to be left alone and keep to itself... it insists itself upon society... it demands respect where it has not earned it, it expects to be treated with deference and be given special treatment... it pushes its beliefs into places that should remain secular. It will not leave well enough alone. It never has, it never will. I've read in many places recently that we need to "play nice" with religion in order to further the goals of secular society, that being the "angry, uppity atheist" only hurts the cause. That's code for "sit down and shut up", and to that I say, fuck no! I am angry because stories like the one above make me angry... and if they don't make you angry then there's something wrong with you, and you need to adjust your moral compass. I will continue to write in outrage and continue to push the message that it is time to cast off the shackles of religion and leave it behind along with the other fairy tales we've dismissed.

Defenders of religion claim that we need religion in order to maintain a proper morality. I've seen too many examples of "christian morality", like the one above. I'm not religious, but I have morals as strong as any christian... stronger, in my opinion, as I don't share, for example, a hatred of homosexuals or beliefs that cause me to say "praise jesus" when a relative is spared their life in an accident that also took the lives of other innocent women and children. Was Jesus not looking out for them? My daughter has never known religion in any formal way, and her morals are spot on... in fact even at her young age, she is far more giving, caring and empathetic than most of her peers that go to church every Sunday and bible school in the summer. And she doesn't need the fear of burning in eternal fire in order to know the difference between right and wrong and act appropriately. Funny that.

I was once afraid to admit that I was an atheist... but every day that I live and see how religion affects the world around me, I'm more and more proud of it. You should be too.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Daily FAIL - this would be funnier to me...

but I think the guy that built this place also built my house... grrr....

fail owned pwned pictures

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Espada flops back to Dems... what did we learn?

Well... I'm not altogether sure yet.

Reports out of Albany, NY today indicate that dissident senator Pedro Espada is poised to rejoin the democratic caucus and restore the 32 - 30 majority that existed prior to the insidious coup he orchestrated back in early June.

So... what dose this mean? Well, first of all it means that the senate will return to the state the electorate voted it as in the first place. Second, it means several bills that have been hung up in limbo while these petulant infants had their little standoff will finally get passed through the senate.

Should we, voters of the state of New York, be satisfied? Hell, no! Both democrats and republicans came off looking like boorish jerks, and I come away from this episode utterly exasperated at the state of the New York Senate. I said it before and I meant it... I think the only solution to fix this problem is to disband the senate completely and hold new elections. This whole fracas was a complete mockery of the state political system from the beginning, and after a month of chaos, embarrassment, and posturing from both sides, they essentially accomplished nothing...

Well, that's not altogether true. They did manage to put NY State up as the laughing stock of American State politics, and piss off the voting electorate in the process. And who knows, perhaps some real reform will come from this mess... but considering reform would have to pass the approval of the idiots who are responsible for this mess in the first place, I find it unlikely in the short term. But I'm hopeful that the real fallout of this incident will be felt at the polls during the next round of senatorial elections.

As for Pedro Espada, the loathsome, corrupt degenerate who started this whole mess... I really have to wonder what happened to cause him to flop back after all his ego-driven, line in the sand speeches over the last month. Although, knowing the man's track record so far, I'm sure there was something in it for him... I'll wager that we'll find out the dems offered him a deal to remain in power at the top of the senate in exchange for his return to the dem side of the aisle.

All that means is that the democrats are as willing to engage the services of a corrupt politician as the republicans are.

And what's sadder still? I will find myself not in the least bit surprised if Espada winds up winning a re-election.


Daily FAIL - why we need to increase education spending...

You'll really be appalled when you find out how much money the guys who did this make...

fail owned pwned pictures

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Tea-baggers and town picnics: an Independence Weekend remembered

It's certainly a tumultuous time in our country... we are in the middle of a vast economic crisis, that is only showing the slowest signs of recovering. We have a damaged international reputation and a world of international strife centered mainly in a place on the other side of the world engaged in a struggle that few of us can even explain the reasons for being there...

We have a new president, a progressive that represents almost the exact opposite of the regime that dragged us into this abyss in the first place, and yet we have the party leadership of the defeated republicans, whose only real platform at this point seems to be unified objection too every initiative put forth by the current leadership. The idea of doing what's best for the country has been shelved in favor of personal gain and survival. The republican party is throwing stones from the bottom of the well they dug themselves into, instead of working together to find a way to climb back out, or even to take hold of the rope the president has tossed them time and time again.

They've forgotten the first rule when in a hole: stop digging.

This was made more apparent over this past weekend when republicans again took to the public squares for their now comically infamous "tea-parties". These things are such a bad idea that even most republicans know to stay the heck away from them (except for the staff of Fox (faux) news, who wouldn't know a bad idea if it slapped them in the ass... remember when news agencies at least gave the appearance of being politically neutral? Thanks Mr. Murdoch).

Most of the people at these rallies have no idea what they're actually protesting, except that they don't like that Barrack Hussein Obama fella and they want him to stop spendin' their money, gal-dangit! They also have no idea what the original tea-party stood for; they are at best ignorant, and at worst confusing losing with tyranny. Worst of all, no-one at any of these rallies has the most important aspect of a well thought out protest: a better idea. There's quite a bit of complaining about... well, they're not really exactly sure what... but very little in the way of actual solutions, beyond "stop spendin' our money!". Fiscal Conservative Andrew Sullivan put it best:

"These are not tea-parties. They are tea-tantrums. And the adolescent, unserious hysteria is a function not of a movement regrouping and refinding itself. It's a function of a movement's intellectual collapse and a party's fast-accelerating nervous breakdown."

And this dovetails into the other common event that took place over this 4th of July weekend: the display of fireworks. This is, of course, a time honored tradition across the country in both big city and rural small town. I happen to be a resident of the latter. Often times, these celebrations are held in conjunction with local picnics, where residents come together to share food, friendship, and community. It's a time for everyone, regardless of political affiliation or idealogical belief, to celebrate the very reason they have the ability to display those traits and qualities. It is a time for true patriotism, even for those who have forgotten the real meaning. And more often than not, they are supported financially with funds from the local government, however in rural areas this is often supplemented with contributions from locals.

I attended one of these local rural picnic days on Sunday. It was a beautiful summer day, and people from all around the surrounding area showed up, carrying with them food items to be shared freely with the rest of the community. It was a magnificent spread, complete with every type of picnic food you could ever imagine... there were no fewer than 11 trays of some type of macaroni salad. So I sat there on the picnic bench as the line for food wound around the pavilion, and I listened to the people talk. They spoke of layoffs and tough times, but also of hope for the future. There were Conservatives griping about the release of prisoners and Obama's stimulus plan and how their grandchildren would never be able to afford college because of it... all the while ignoring the man behind them who just started his new construction job repairing a local bridge, paid for of course by the Obama stimulus package. Did he at least appreciate where the money for his new job came from? Nope... he chimed right in, totally unaware that his good fortune was a direct result of the president's action.

And there were progressives and liberals... talking about community and how they hoped that someone would be able to figure out a national health plan, and how much they wanted to get our troops out of the middle east... while complaining still that the "change" they hoped for was slow in coming at the very least, and hopiing that the president would live up to his word.

But as the line-standers got their meals and sat together, they talked more about family, and local goings-on... the kids that had just graduated and summer activities that were just starting up. And they looked down at the beach where the children were playing in the water and laughing and screaming. And there was smiling... lots of smiling; the sort of physical display of pleasure that has become all too unfamiliar these days.

And at the end of the night we spread out and covered the hillside above the like a quilt, and we watched with oooohs and aaahs as the pyrotechnics exploded in the night sky in colors of blue and gold and red and yellow... kids blocked their ears and toddlers clapped and shrieked with glee. For that day... in that place, the world was... right.

And we, the people... we needed that. It was a perfect day to celebrate who we are, and it was done so in the most perfect way without anyone even realizing it or intending it. A community getting together and organizing a day of fellowship and celebration, as an act of patriotism... accepting people in from all communities to share in what they had to give, sitting and standing together to watch the sky light up... smiling... and hoping.

Yes... the community needed it, desperately... and having watched and been engaged in the celebration, I wondered to myself what it was worth. What price can you put on what was on display on that Sunday afternoon? I had a hard time doing it. The joy and peace of that event, the sense of community... these are all priceless. The fireworks are a tradition... people look forward to them and the rewards that come from the celebration far outweigh any cost... and so it saddens me to read that so many communities with short-sighted leadership were so easily able to justify cancelling similar celebrations in towns and cities all across America.

Now is not the time to throw out the baby with the bath-water, people. Read what I wrote above again and remember how important things like this are. In places like Providence, RI, Caseyville, MO and even Colorado Springs, CO, the people were deprived of the experience I just wrote about in an effort to "save money". Believe me, I understand the importance of saving money in this environment, but in doing so, it is the responsibility of our leaders to also consider the morale of the citizens. The loss of these important celebrations in such a trying time has a much larger effect than simply the bottom line.

This is America, and we need to celebrate that now more than ever.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Daily FAIL - a diet I could stay on...

Man... if this were accurate I'd be sooooooo much thinner than I am right now.

fail owned pwned pictures

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Seeing isn't always believing...

One of the reasons I love Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy website is because not only is he a brilliant astrnomer and movie buff, but he's a total geek and nerd of the highest order, which makes him OK in my book.

So, from his blog, please regard the image below:

I love optical illusions... in this image, you can see three embedded spirals... one is green, one is pinkish-orange, and one is blue... right? Wrong! In fact, the green and blue spirals are actually the same exact color! How cool is that? Don't believe me? Check out Phil's full entry for the complete explanation... it's worth it, trust me.

Apple IPOD Touch 3.0 software upgrade - I have to PAY for this???

My IPOD touch is about the best single technology gizmo I've ever owned. I didn't want an IPhone because a) I really only get Verizon where I live, and b) the IPhone sucks as an actual mobile phone. So, the Touch is a perfect compromise... I get all the fun and features of the Iphone, while still getting to pay for an actual cell phone and service... it's a win - win.

Anyhow, a couple of weeks ago Apple released a new software upgrade for the Touch, version 3.0... which is great, cause, you know, software updates are generally good things. So off I went dutifully to Itunes to download the new bytes... and that's when I got the sucker punch: Apple is actually asking people to pay for the privilege of this upgrade, to the Itune of of $9.95. What in the blazes? I have to pay for an Ipod software update? NONSENSE!

Well, I sighed and shrugged and decided that in order for them to be charging for what should rightfully be a free update, like all other ipod updates have EVER been, they must be offering some phenomenal new features. Ummm... well... not so much.

The additional functionalities afforded in the 3.0 software are as follows: Stereo bluetooth connectivity (nice, but until bluetooth headphones can offer the same hi fidelity sound as higher end connected headphones, no-one's going to be too excited about that one), peer-to-peer gaming (eh... ok), copy, cut and paste functionality with a "shake to undo" feature (should have always been there), a landscape keyboard (duh!), spotlight search (which really is only useful if you have tens of thousands of items on your ipod that you can't find by just, you know, knowing where they are), shake to shuffle (again, why was this not there to begin with?), auto wi-fi login (see comment regarding shake to shuffle), push notifications, and parental controls (ummm... ok... good luck with that last one).

So, there's the laundry list of updates (oh, you also get some additional language support). I have to say, I'm left largely unimpressed, and feeling like these are things that should have been available all along. Considering how much the Ipod Touch sells for to begin with, I think it's gauche to ask for another 10 bucks for a functionality upgrade.

I can live without most of these new features, and I think most Touch owners will be able to as well. Can you imagine if Microsoft tried to pull something like this? The MAC crusaders would be up in arms and it would make the lead on "MSNBC". I'd like to see the "I'm a PC" guy turn and kick that smug little "I'm a MAC" guy right in the gonads for this awful piece of profiteering by Apple. Thanks but no thanks.


*Update - The Cnet CRAVE blog actually has a more complete list of all the new features in the 3.0 update, including those for the IPhone, but still, what's not listed in my article pretty well qualifies as "fixes", or improvements that should have been there in the first place, not as added functionality you should be required to pay for.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Do the right thing... OR ELSE

As I tend to be liberal leaning, I am, of course, a proponent of social responsibility and community. But I also understand the importance of personal freedom. Most of us remember the series finale of "Seinfeld"... the plot revolved around the Seinfeld characters being arrested and convicted under a "good Samaritan" law, whereby people could be arrested and convicted if they did not intervene on the behalf of a stranger in distress. The episode took a direct jab at many such "Samaritan" laws that have been passed in states throughout the country. They were being mocked, and rightfully so.

Today's online edition of the Ithaca Journal (Ithaca, NY) carries an editorial about a proposed bill in NY State known as "Steven's Law", after Steven Bacon, the victim of a tragic hit and run accident in 2007. If passed, the law would carry penalties for witnesses of an accident that do not report the accident to the appropriate authorities. The penalties would include fines of up to $500... but more importantly could count as a misdemeanor on a person's criminal record.

In principal, (and of course absent the over-the-top comic delivery presented in the Seinfeld episode) it sounds like a good idea. We should all endeavour to help our fellow humans, especially when they are in real distress. However, is it the responsibility of a society to impose this morality on its citizens? While I personally have a strong internal imperative to intervene and offer help when it is needed, and to report crimes or abuses when I see them, I find the enforcement of those morals, under penalty of law, to be an affront to personal freedom.

While reporting an accident is certainly the right thing to do, and I would of course encourage anyone to do so in any circumstance, is it really right to hold someone criminally negligent for not doing so? I'm not sure I can make that argument. People have all sorts of reasons for not wanting to become involved in certain situations... is it the responsibility of society to adjudicate that decision? I have a hard time with that.

Additionally, I think an attempt to enforce such a law would be nearly impossible. The concept itself is too ambiguous and far to open to interpretation of a given incident. So, besides being socially questionable in my mind, passing a law that is almost impossible to enforce is simply irresponsible. And while I am saddened by the tragic accident that caused the death of an otherwise innocent man, and am outraged by the behavior of a thug that would drive away and leave someone to die, passing a law that punishes the witnesses, especially with a misdemeanor on their record for the simple act of refusing to get involved, seems more like anger and vengeance than justice. That's not what our system of justice is supposed to be about.

Thankfully, this bill never got through the committee, but the editorial writer of the Ithaca Journal article believes it deserves more attention. The article concludes with the line: "It's a law that could save a life". While this may be true, it's unlikely. What is far more likely is that some witness, while in no way involved with an accident, will find themselves with a criminal record for not wanting to get involved. I'm sorry, but I must whole-heartedly disagree with the editorial writer. Doing the right thing is a virtue. Forcing people to do the right thing... I'm not so sure.