The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Religion and aviation

The latest infliction of Haredi nonsense on innocent victims comes via Gulliver this week, as religious nutters apparently can't deal with sitting next to women on airplanes:

One flight last week, from New York’s JFK airport to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport, descended into chaos according to passengers, after a large group of haredim, or ultra-orthodox Jews, refused to take their seats next to women, in accordance with strict religious customs.

Amit Ben-Natan, a passenger on last week’s El Al flight from New York, said take-off was delayed after numerous and repeated requests by ultra-orthodox men for female passengers to be moved.

“People stood in the aisles and refused to go forward,” she told the Ynet website. “Although everyone had tickets with seat numbers that they purchased in advance, they asked us to trade seats with them, and even offered to pay money, since they cannot sit next to a woman. It was obvious that the plane won’t take off as long as they keep standing in the aisles.”

All right, you clowns. In Israel, you're essentially parasites, contributing nothing to Israeli society except to push their foreign policy into conflict with every ally you've got, and your entire worldview is based on a literal reading of only some parts of a 3,000-year-old book of fables. If you want to participate in the real, 21st-century world—for example, by using air transport—then you can sit down and shut up.

</rant>

Institutional irrationality is fine, as long as it's private. As one of my college professors once said, "Hey, man, do anything you want, but don't push your trip on me." Good advice.

Report: Airman denied re-enlistment on religious grounds

The Air Force Times reported Thursday that an unnamed U.S. Air Force airman was denied re-enlistment because he refused to swear an oath "so help me God:"

Air Force Instruction 36-2606 spells out the active-duty oath of enlistment, which all airmen must take when they enlist or reenlist and ends with “so help me God.” The old version of that AFI included an exception: “Note: Airmen may omit the words ‘so help me God,’ if desired for personal reasons.”

That language was dropped in an Oct. 30, 2013, update to the AFI. The relevant section of that AFI now only lists the active-duty oath of enlistment, without giving airmen any option to choose not to swear an oath to a deity.

[American Humanist Association lawyer Monica] Miller pointed out that Article VI of the Constitution prohibits requiring religious tests to hold an office or public trust.

A few years ago I started hearing about the increasing religiosity of Air Force personnel at the USAF Academy in Colorado Springs. This made me nervous as I'm not sure I want people who can launch nuclear missiles to have a fundamentalist belief in an afterlife. It appears my discomfort was warranted.

You might also have seen...

...these:

More later.

Religion, fish, and chips

Last week at my remote office, a man came to the bar to order the Duke's most excellent fish and chips for takeout. Then he asked a question: is the fish beer-battered? Well, yes, of course it is; it's a Scottish pub.

Unfortunately for the pub's sales and the customer's stomach pangs, he was an observant Muslim, and believes alcohol is haram. So we got into a conversation about whether beer-battered fish was in this category. (Pubs in London have many more Muslim customers than pubs in Chicago, so they generally don't use beer in their fish batter.)

I'm not religious, not even a tiny bit, but I understand some people keep strict dietary laws like halal. Some people in my own family are strictly Kosher too. But putting aside my feelings that dietary laws in the 21st century make no sense except as a way to keep the observant ethnic group separate from society, the question "is beer-battered fried fish haram" actually interested me.

Again, as a rational person, I would have assumed that the reason alcohol is haram has to do with its intoxicating effects. Since ethanol boils at 78°C, well below the oil's temperature (150-175°C or so), it pretty much evaporates completely when the fish is fried. People get intoxicated on fish-and-chip nights at the Duke (all you can eat Wednesdays and Fridays!), but from the 90 single malts and half-dozen beers on draught, not from the fish.

But it turns out, once it touches alcohol, it's haram:

Fire/cooking does not remove impurity, and the Shafi’i School considers alcohol, like beer, impure. Therefore, even when cooking removes all the alcohol, contamination with the impurity makes eating it problematic.

And Allah knows best.

In fact, most imams seem to agree that food becomes haram as soon as it touches impure oil, even if it is chemically purified by frying:

So long as we know that most of what is fried [with this oil] is impure [for the Muslims to eat] from dead [meat (of the animal which had died prior to slaughter)] or pig [meat], then it is imperative that we ask. However, if we do not know whether most of what is fried [with this oil] is impure [for the Muslims to eat] or other than that, then it is not obligatory to question. And Allaah has the complete knowledge [of all affairs].

But there may be an out:

Hanafi muftis allow the consumption of products containing alcohol from sources other than grapes or dates so long as: 1) it does not intoxicate and 2) it is not used in vain. Also, the amount of alcohol must not exceed 0.5%. Thus, if the amount of beer used is disproportional to the extent of more than 0.5%, then such a product would not be permitted. If the amount of alcohol is 0.5% or less, then they would allow it.

Why Allah decided on 1/200th as the magic amount, what "in vain" means, and how the Hanafi muftis in question learned these specifications, are beyond the scope of this blog post. And it seems to be an open question whether the 0.5% refers to the ethanol itself or to the beer as a whole, but I'm going with the actual alcohol content. I will endeavor to find out from Colin Cameron how much beer exactly gets used in the preparation of fish and chips, and what kind of beer, so that the guy who just wanted a chippie to take away can have it from the Duke without going to hell.

About this blog (v 4.2)

Parker, 14 weeksI'm David Braverman, this is my blog, and Parker is my 7½-year-old mutt. I last updated this About... page in September 2011, more than 1,300 posts back, so it's time for a refresh.

The Daily Parker is about:

  • Parker, my dog, whom I adopted on 1 September 2006.
  • Politics. I'm a moderate-lefty by international standards, which makes me a radical left-winger in today's United States.
  • The weather. I've operated a weather website for more than 13 years. That site deals with raw data and objective observations. Many weather posts also touch politics, given the political implications of addressing climate change, though happily we no longer have to do so under a president beholden to the oil industry.
  • Chicago (the greatest city in North America), and sometimes London, San Francisco, and the rest of the world.
  • Photography. I took tens of thousands of photos as a kid, then drifted away from making art until early 2011 when I finally got the first digital camera I've ever had whose photos were as good as film. That got me reading more, practicing more, and throwing more photos on the blog. In my initial burst of enthusiasm I posted a photo every day. I've pulled back from that a bit—it takes about 30 minutes to prep and post one of those puppies—but I'm still shooting and still learning.

I also write a lot of software, and will occasionally post about technology as well. I work for 10th Magnitude, a startup software consultancy in Chicago, I've got more than 20 years experience writing the stuff, and I continue to own a micro-sized software company. (I have an online resume, if you're curious.) I see a lot of code, and since I often get called in to projects in crisis, I see a lot of bad code, some of which may appear here.

I strive to write about these and other things with fluency and concision. "Fast, good, cheap: pick two" applies to writing as much as to any other creative process (cf: software). I hope to find an appropriate balance between the three, as streams of consciousness and literacy have always struggled against each other since the first blog twenty years ago.

If you like what you see here, you'll probably also like Andrew Sullivan, James Fallows, Josh Marshall, and Bruce Schneier. Even if you don't like my politics, you probably agree that everyone ought to read Strunk and White, and you probably have an opinion about the Oxford comma—punctuation de rigeur in my opinion.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you continue to enjoy The Daily Parker.

One meeting to bind them all...

I had enough time during today's 8-hour meeting to queue up some articles to read later. Here they are:

As for today's meeting, this.

The left's answer to the Tea Party

Or, "Jenny McCarthy is an idiot."

We on the left have stupid people in our midst, same as they on the right. The right's stupid people say mixed marriages make them gag and bring assault rifles where moms are meeting to plan gun-control events.

On the left, our stupid people think vaccines are dangerous. You know, jabs: those little pricks that have saved millions of us from dying of childhood diseases.

As we've known for 40 years or so, if you don't vaccinate enough people, you get disease epidemics:

Since I came down with pertussis, more commonly known as whooping cough, waking up on Saturday, August 31, with what felt like a light fever and a tightness in my chest, I’ve celebrated the Jewish high holidays, covered Washington's response to the crisis in Syria, hosted several out of town friends and a dinner party or two, attended the funeral of a close relative and the wedding celebration of a close friend, given a lighter strain of the whoop to my mother, and, somewhere in there, managed to turn 31, whooping all the while. I even spent a long weekend on a beach in north Florida, where a friend commented on my now killer abs—odd since, because of my illness, I had not been to the gym at that point for 35 days. “The coughing,” she said cheerfully, “must’ve helped!”

It would be an understatement to say that pertussis and other formerly conquered childhood diseases like measles and mumps are making a resurgence. Pertussis, specifically, has come roaring back. From 2011 to 2012, reported pertussis incidences rose more than threefold in 21 states. (And that’s just reported cases. Since we’re not primed to be on the look-out for it, many people may simply not realize they have it.) In 2012, the CDC said that the number of pertussis cases was higher than at any point in 50 years. That year, Washington state declared an epidemic; this year, Texas did, too. Washington, D.C. has also seen a dramatic increase. This fall, Cincinnati reported a 283 percent increase in pertussis. It’s even gotten to the point that pertussis has become a minor celebrity cause: NASCAR hero Jeff Gordon and Sarah Michelle Gellar are now encouraging people to get vaccinated.

It gets better. Yesterday a friend (ironically) posted an anti-vaccine pamphlet that so far has attracted a couple dozen comments. The pamphleteer alleges that "In December 2012, two landmark decisions were announced that confirmed Dr. Wakefield’s original concern that there is a link between the MMR vaccine, autism and stomach disorders." The pamphlet is a little more accurate when it says, "[i]t was Dr. [Andrew] Wakefield that first publicized the link between stomach disorders and autism, and taking the findings one step further, the link between stomach disorders, autism and the Measles Mumps Rubella (MMR) vaccine."

If you don't know Wakefield, check this out. I can wait...

Well, apparently Wakefield's ducking like a quack isn't enough for some people, so let me dig in a little further. It turns out, the U.S. has a special court to hear claims about vaccines. The Office of Special Masters of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims

administers a no-fault system for litigating vaccine injury claims. These claims against vaccine manufacturers cannot normally be filed in state or federal civil courts, but instead must be heard in the Court of Claims, sitting without a jury. The program was established by the 1986 National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act (NCVIA), passed by the United States Congress in response to a threat to the vaccine supply due to a 1980s scare over the DPT vaccine. Despite the belief of most public health officials that claims of side effects were unfounded, large jury awards had been given to some plaintiffs, most DPT vaccine makers had ceased production, and officials feared the loss of herd immunity.

The "landmark decisions" that Wakefield's propagandists refer to were (was?) actually one decision, Mojabi v. HHS (pdf), decided 13 December 2012.

The plaintiff, whose child came down with a rare encephalopathy shortly after receiving a routine MMR vaccine, claimed initially that the brain damage led to an autism-spectrum disorder. They subsequently backed off that claim, because not only wasn't there enough evidence to support it, but also it's not clear that the child is on the spectrum. Still, the court awarded close to $1 million in damages because there was evidence that the MMR vaccine injured the child.

Now, weigh this unfortunate injury against the millions of us who survived childhood at all thanks to vaccines and herd immunity, and my stony little economic heart tells me it's a good deal. Here, for starters, is the incidence of petrussis since 1922:

So these anti-vaccine folks really are my side's Tea Party: generally well-meaning but driven by fear and ignorance to completely wrong conclusions. And like the Tea Party, the choices that they're making put all of us at risk.

Career-limiting move by Congressional staff

Tuesday night, after the House of Representatives approved the deal ending the government shutdown, the House Stenographer...well, she added some commentary of her own:

As the House finished their vote to reopen the federal government and raise the debt ceiling, a House stenographer decided it was a good time to let everyone know her feelings about God, Congress, and the Freemasons.

“He [God] will not be mocked,” the stenographer, apparently named Molly, yelled into the microphone as she was dragged off by security. “The greatest deception here is that this is not one nation under God. It never was. It would not have been. The Constitution would not have been written by Freemasons. They go against God. You cannot serve two masters. Praise be to God. Praise be to Jesus.”

In unrelated news, if anyone wants to hire a slightly-unhinged but quite pious stenographer, I know of one who's on the market.

"We sent you two boats and a helicopter."

Andrew Sullivan puts it best: "Every now and again, a writer needs to find a new way of expressing the notion that fundamentalism is not actually faith, but a neurosis built on misunderstandings and leading nowhere. And then you just read the AP:"

A northern Arizona family that was lost at sea for weeks in an ill-fated attempt to leave the U.S. over what they consider government interference in religion will fly back home Sunday.

Hannah Gastonguay, 26, said Saturday that she and her husband “decided to take a leap of faith and see where God led us” when they took their two small children and her father-in-law and set sail from San Diego for the tiny island nation of Kiribati in May.

Well, praise be!, Venezuela has a coast guard.

The title comes from this joke, in case you haven't heard it before.