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Thursday 11 September 2014

From my first trip to New York, August 1984:

Thursday 11 September 2014 08:51:18 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Geography | US | World | Religion | Travel#
Saturday 6 September 2014

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.

Saturday 6 September 2014 12:34:41 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Religion#
Monday 5 May 2014

...these:

More later.

Monday 5 May 2014 13:24:16 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Kitchen Sink | US | Religion#
Thursday 10 April 2014

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.

Thursday 10 April 2014 11:25:17 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Religion#
Saturday 1 March 2014

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.

Saturday 1 March 2014 14:27:44 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Baseball | Biking | Cubs | Geography | Kitchen Sink | London | Parker | Daily | Photography | Politics | US | World | Religion | Software | Blogs | Business | Cloud | Travel | Weather | Windows Azure | Work | Writing#
Tuesday 19 November 2013

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.

Tuesday 19 November 2013 17:36:50 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | US | World | Religion#
Tuesday 12 November 2013

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.

Tuesday 12 November 2013 15:43:02 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | Religion#
Thursday 17 October 2013

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.

Thursday 17 October 2013 11:23:34 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Religion#
Monday 12 August 2013

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.

Sunday 11 August 2013 23:37:41 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Religion#
Friday 7 June 2013

Last Sunday's Game of Thrones episode portrayed one of the most gut-wrenching scenes from the books. People who hadn't read the books had understandably strong reactions:

More (with spoilers) in the full post.

Friday 7 June 2013 09:18:57 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Politics | Religion#
Saturday 1 June 2013

Sometimes, the Illinois General Assembly reminds us that Molly Ivins had it right: the only state legislature worse at their jobs than Illinois' is Texas'.

Yesterday, the only legislature we have adjourned for the summer, after passing the least popular bill on its agenda this year and failing to pass one of the most popular:

Illinois had appeared poised to become the 13th state to approve same-sex marriage. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn promised to sign the bill. Democrats held veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate. President Barack Obama called for its passage during a Thursday night fundraiser in his home city, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was a major backer as well.

Under the bill, the definition of marriage in Illinois would have changed from an act between a man and a woman to one between two people. Civil unions could have been converted to marriages within a year of the law going on the books. The legislation would not have required religious organizations to perform a marriage of gay couples, and church officials would not have been forced to allow their facilities to be used by gay couples seeking to marry.

But as the hours wore on, the optimism and energy dissolved in the face of strong opposition from Catholic and conservative African-American church groups, leading [Rep. Greg] Harris [D-Chicago] to rise on the floor and tearfully announce that he would not call the bill — there wasn't enough support after all.

Thank you, churches, for confusing conservatism and Christianism once again. And thank you, Illinois House, for cowering behind procedure in the face of criticism from a small minority of constituents. Failing to take a vote means we actually don't know which of our representatives would have chosen to side with history and which ones with the past. Well-played, troglodytes, well-played.

Oh, and the legislature also failed to pass pension reform, about which the bond markets will probably have something to say on Monday.

Good thing it's now legal to carry concealed guns in Illinois. Because nothing keeps your kids safe (from gay germs, one must assume) like a .380 in your purse.

Saturday 1 June 2013 11:13:34 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Politics | US | Religion#
Monday 11 February 2013

The Pope has announced his resignation:

Pope Benedict XVI announced Monday that he would resign on Feb. 28 because he was simply too infirm to carry on — the first pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years. The decision sets the stage for a conclave to elect a new pope before the end of March.

"After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths due to an advanced age are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry," he told the cardinals. "I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only by words and deeds but no less with prayer and suffering.

Ratzinger is the person most directly responsible for the office accused of covering up priests abusing children for decades. I cannot wait to read Sullivan...

Update: I was not wrong about Sullivan.

Monday 11 February 2013 06:02:39 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | World | Religion#
Wednesday 26 December 2012

XKCD tackles the astronomical and geographical challenges of following the Star of Bethlehem:

If the wise men leave Jerusalem and walk toward the star Sirius, day and night, even when it’s below the horizon, this is the path they follow over the surface:

several star-struck sages spiral southward

If we allow a little theological confusion and assume the wise men can walk on water, they’ll eventually wind up going in an endless circle, 30 kilometers in diameter, around the South Pole.

Re-reading Matthew 2:7-10, however, I can't quite tell who the Magi were, what star they thought they were following, or what exactly they used to ascertain when it had showed them the location they sought. Possibly someone sent up a flare from the manger?

Wednesday 26 December 2012 07:14:30 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | Religion#
Wednesday 19 December 2012

Three unrelated stories drew my notice this evening:

PATH service has resumed to Hoboken. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—I lived in Hoboken, N.J., the birthplace of Frank Sinatra (really) and baseball (not really). I took the Port Authority Trans-Hudson train almost every day when I worked in SoHo, and about every third day when I worked in Midtown. Having experienced other ways of commuting to New York—in fact, the switch up to 53rd and Park finally got me to return to Chicago, after my commute stretched to an hour and 15 minutes and required three transit changes—I have a lot of sympathy for the people living in Hoboken and Jersey City who have had to make their ways across the Hudson without the PATH.

In the first days after 9/11, both the PATH and the MTA worried that the Twin Towers' collapse would breach the "bathtub" (the Towers' foundation) and flood both the PATH and the New York subway. No one knew how bad the damage would be, and were thankful when it didn't happen. Eleven years later, Hurricane Sandy showed everyone.

So reading today that the PATH Hoboken to 33rd St. line reopened after seven weeks made me smile. Not as much, I expect, as the thousands of people whose commutes can now return to tolerable lengths.

I'm visiting New York in a few weeks; I'll make sure to post a few photos in homage of the PATH.

Facebook's change to Instagram's terms of service has rightly outraged everyone paying attention. Instagram, a photo-sharing service that Facebook bought recently for $1 bn, this week published new terms of service that allow them to use posted photos any way they want, any time they want. Their goal, not surprisingly, is to make money. The people who use Instagram just want to share their photos with their friends.

The Times quoted Santa Clara University Law Professor Eric Goldman saying, "The interest of the site is never 100 percent aligned with the users, and the divergence inevitably leads to friction. It’s unavoidable." Well, yes, because Instagram's users are not Instagram's customers, as they are just discovering, because the customer is the one who pays you. If you use a service that is free to you, you are not the customer and therefore have nothing to say to the service's owners. I find the flap about Instagram's TOS so interesting because it seems as if none of their users has realized this key point yet.

Instagram swears up and down that the users continue to own their own photos. Of course they do. And of course you keep ownership. But if you post on Instagram, "you hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, worldwide, limited license to use, modify, delete from, add to, publicly perform, publicly display, reproduce and translate such Content, including without limitation distributing part or all of the Site in any media formats through any media channel...." So they don't own your photos, exactly, but they can act as if they do.

Under U.S. copyright law, the creator of a work owns it, unless he has signed away the creation right explicitly. (Example: I work for a great software company. I write software for them, under a work-for-hire agreement. Therefore, except for some explicit, written exceptions, all the software I produce that has commercial value is owned by my employer. If I write code in one of my employer's client's applications that makes 10th Magnitude a billion dollars, I don't own it, 10th Magnitude does. That's the deal I made when I took this job. I trust, however, that if I made my boss a billion dollars, he'd share.)

So if you take a photo on your phone, you own it. It's your photo. And Instagram's new TOS says, yes, of course you own it, but we can sell it if we want and pay you nothing.

Now, I've experienced a variety of contractual arrangements in my life as a creative person, so I'm not shocked when someone wants a piece of my income as a fee for finding the income-producing gig. As a software contractor, I've routinely signed away 25% or 30% of my earnings off the top, in exchange for someone else doing the legwork to find the income-producing gig on my behalf. (It's really hard to find gigs while you're working full time on one, it turns out.) And, as someone who hires software contractors now, I expect they'll agree, too. We call this a "commission," as have people in other professions for millennia.

Instagram, effectively, demands a 100% commission off your work. Not only that, but if Instagram finds that one of your photos makes Ansel Adams weep, they can market the crap out of it. You'll never see a dime. Why would someone license the rights from you, when Instagram is selling them cheap? And you can't stop Instagram from destroying the market for your work, because you consented to it by posting your photo.

Let me put it another way. Instagram is saying, "You own your car, of course. But if you park it in our garage, we get to use it as a taxi, without paying you a dime."

To sum up: the people railing against Instagram's new TOS are exactly right. It sucks. And I will never, ever post any of my intellectual property there, even if they change the TOS in response to the approbation they've received, because (repeat after me) I am not their customer.

Finally—and I assure you, this is not related to Instagram—I recoiled in horror at the latest religious stupidity, that the Taliban have started killing anti-polio workers in Afghanistan.

Full disclosure: I was a member of Rotary International for a few years, and I wholly support the organization's amazingly-successful efforts to destroy polio the way we destroyed smallpox. Polio is a sufficiently complex organism that it can't evolve as quickly as we can kill it, making it an ideal target for eradication (like smallpox). But you have to get immunized, and sufficient numbers of your neighbors do, too, or it will keep spreading.

So, these idiot religious fundies, who subscribe to any number of irrational fantasies already, have apparently decided that the people trying to keep their babies from dying of an entirely preventable disease are, in fact, American spies. As the Times reports, "the killings were a serious reversal for the multi-billion-dollar global polio immunization effort, which over the past quarter century has reduced the number of endemic countries from 120 to just three: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria."

Does anyone else see a coincidence between the three last outposts of a crippling, preventable disease and religious nuttery? Part of Rotary's success, by the way, has been in reassuring local populations that eradicating polio is no more and no less than it seems: a humanitarian effort to end a horrible disease forever. Wars have stopped to allow Rotary and the Gates Foundation to conduct immunizations. But the Taliban do not believe in reason. They would rather have hundreds of their children dead or crippled than accept the possibility that some American- (and British- and French- and Japanese- and South-African- and Namibian- and Saudi- and...) funded organization wants to prevent their children dying or becoming crippled.

Three countries still have polio. They also have air travel. Not everyone in the OECD has polio vaccinations today. So, if I can mention the self-interest of everyone able to read this blog post, who must therefore speak English and have an Internet connection, the religious nutters killing health workers who, but for being shot, would have eradicated a disease that has crippled millions, have made your life more perilous.

</ rant>

All right. Time to walk the dog.

PS: You may need to subscribe to the New York Times to read the linked stories. I apologize if this inconveniences you, but I recommend subscribing anyway. For $15 a month you not only get the entire newspaper online (and on any tablets you own), but you get to feel good about yourself. You also get to live Kant's categorical imperative, by behaving in such a way that the behavior could be universal. Isn't $15 an incentive worth aligning?

Tuesday 18 December 2012 22:04:18 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | Religion | Business#
Wednesday 29 August 2012

Science Guy Bill Nye keeps calm and carries on:

Wednesday 29 August 2012 09:50:53 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Religion#
Tuesday 12 June 2012

Robert Wright wonders:

A few decades ago, Darwinians and creationists had a de facto nonaggression pact: Creationists would let Darwinians reign in biology class, and otherwise Darwinians would leave creationists alone. The deal worked. I went to a public high school in a pretty religious part of the country--south-central Texas--and I don't remember anyone complaining about sophomores being taught natural selection. It just wasn't an issue.

A few years ago, such biologists as Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers started violating the nonaggression pact. ... I don't just mean they professed atheism--many Darwinians had long done that; I mean they started proselytizing, ridiculing the faithful, and talking as if religion was an inherently pernicious thing. They not only highlighted the previously subdued tension between Darwinism and creationism but depicted Darwinism as the enemy of religion more broadly.

My fear is that the damage is broader--that fundamentalist Christians, upon being maligned by know-it-all Darwinians, are starting to see secular scientists more broadly as the enemy; Darwinians, climate scientists, and stem cell researchers start to seem like a single, menacing blur.

Three centuries after the Enlightenment and 46% of the people in the world's most powerful country believe a mythical being created humans from scratch. Wright may be on to something.

It's true that if you tell someone he's wrong, he'll often dig his heels in. But I think Wright misses the basic distinguishing feature separating religionists from atheists: we atheists tend to believe evidence, while religionists tend to have faith in magic. Tell an atheist he's wrong and generally he finds real, testable evidence to support his claim—or he changes his mind.

Tuesday 12 June 2012 09:49:07 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Religion#
Sunday 13 May 2012

Via Sullivan, a suggestion from Dan McAdams about the difficulties some people have accepting natural selection theory:

A story is a narrative account of a motivated character who acts to achieve certain goals or ends over time. Every great story you can think of—from Homer’s Iliad to your favorite television show—involves characters who pursue goals over time, characters who want something and set out to achieve it. In this sense, the classic biblical creation stories are very good stories. You have a main character—God, the creator—who sets out to achieve something over time. There is purpose and design to what God, the main character, does. God is an agent—a self-conscious, motivated actor. All stories have agents.

Evolutionary theory, however, is not a story in that there is no prime agent, no self-conscious and motivated main character who strives to achieve something over time. For this reason, there is no overall narrative arc or design, no purpose that is being achieved by a purposeful agent. Instead, you have random, mechanical forces—variation, selection, and heredity. Bad story! But, at the same time, extraordinarily brilliant and elegant theory, for it provides a compelling and scientifically testable explanation for life on earth.

This dovetails well with a book I read two weeks ago, Chris Mooney's The Republican Brain. Mooney doesn't suggest that people who deny the obvious—like evolution or climate change—are stupid; rather, they have compelling psychological and historical reasons for believing what people like them tell them. Mooney makes it clear that we need better stories, better narratives, to help people understand and accept the counter-intuitive ways the world actually works. But McAdams has a point: some people need narratives, and narratives need actors. Natural selection works without any conscious intervention. Climate change happens because of billions of diverse actors.

Pointing out how people have got things wrong doesn't work. We need to speak the same language.

Sunday 13 May 2012 18:27:54 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Religion#
Wednesday 9 May 2012

Today the right wing won two battles in their long, slow, rear-guard war against the 21st century.

In North Carolina, voters chose by a 60-40 margin to add an anti-marriage amendment to the state constitution, continuing the tradition of tolerance and modernity established by enlightened statesmen such as Jesse Helms and William Blount:

North Carolina has become the 31st state to add an amendment on marriage to its constitution, with voters banning same-sex marriage and barring legal recognition of unmarried couples by state and local governments.

Money from national interest groups poured into North Carolina. The National Organization for Marriage contributed $425,000 to the Vote for Marriage campaign, according to the latest reports, and the Human Rights Campaign and its affiliates contributed nearly $500,000 to the opposition Coalition to Protect All N.C. Families.

Vote for Marriage raised more than $1 million, and the Coalition to Protect All N.C. Families raised more than $2 million.

It's interesting that the latter two groups, who received most of their money from out-of-state, anti-gay concerns, failed so miserably to do what their names suggested were their missions. It's almost as if George Orwell had named them, but of course he's been dead for quite some time.

Meanwhile, Indiana Republicans tossed out the third most senior U.S. Senator because his decade-long rightward drift wasn't radical enough:

Sen. Richard Lugar’s 36-year Senate career is now history.

Lugar was defeated in today’s Republican primary election by Treasurer Richard Mourdock, ending his bid for a seventh term in the U.S. Senate.

It wasn’t even close.

With 70 percent of the vote counted, Mourdock had 60 percent to Lugar’s 40 percent.

It's possible that Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly will defeat Mourdock in November, but not likely. Indiana, some will recall, came close to legislating the value of a mathematical constant not too long ago, shortly before giving vital support to the Ku Klux Klan.

The struggle between fear and future has gone on longer than written history. Future always wins. But fear inflicts an enormous cost in the bargain. I only hope today's victories by the religious right in the U.S. are what they seem: tantrums of the bigots and zealots that history is leaving behind.

Update: Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett has won the Wisconsin Democratic primary to face Governor Scott Walker next month in the latter's recall election. The re-match of the 2010 election is a statistical dead heat, though Barrett has a slight edge. At least Wisconsin's right wing is unambiguously about making rich people even richer, without muddling the message with religion. Still: I'll be glad to see the back of Walker, whenever he leaves office.

Tuesday 8 May 2012 21:31:50 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Raleigh | Religion#
Monday 12 March 2012

The United Kingdom has no Constitutional prohibition against established religion; in fact, the head of state is also the head of the church. But the UK has a much deeper secular grain than we have, to the extent that many people in the country get quite exercised about even public prayer. The Washington Post explains the latest row:

Local lawmaker Clive Bone, an atheist, was backed by four of his peers in challenging the long-standing tradition of opening public meetings with blessings by Christian clergy. After losing two council votes on the prayer ban, Bone took the town to court — winning a ruling last month that appeared to set a legal precedent by saying government had no authority to compel citizens to hear prayer.

Bone, a transplanted Londoner and retired management consultant who has given up his seat on the council, said: “This isn’t about freedom of religion. I will defend their right to pray in their churches to my dying breath. Just don’t make us listen to it anymore. It is a backwards tradition that alienates people in this country.”

Most people I know in the UK say religion is entirely private, and would likely be offended at having to listen to prayers at minor public meanings. It's yet another example of how really out of step the rest of the Western world are with us.

Monday 12 March 2012 18:23:33 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | World | Religion#
Wednesday 22 February 2012

The astrology nutters who sued the time zone database for copyright infringement have withdrawn the suit.

Plaintiff's attorney Julie Molloy filed the notice of voluntary dismissal today in the District of Massachusetts under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1).

So, reason prevailed. Good.

Wednesday 22 February 2012 15:57:41 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Geography | US | Religion | Business#
Tuesday 21 February 2012

Republican Presidential candidate Rick Santorum, someone who expects to be taken seriously as a potential leader of a 21st-century republic, has taken yet another step back from the reality-based community:

“We were put on this Earth as creatures of God to have dominion over the Earth, to use it wisely and steward it wisely, but for our benefit not for the Earth’s benefit,” Santorum told a Colorado crowd earlier this month.

“When you have a worldview that elevates the Earth above man and says that we can’t take those resources because we’re going to harm the Earth; by things that frankly are just not scientifically proven, for example, the politicization of the whole global warming debate — this is all an attempt to, you know, to centralize power and to give more power to the government,” Santorum said.

This illustrates two common tactics of the religious right. The first is to blow a dog whistle; that is, to use a word or phrase indicating support of a fringe idea without actually saying explicitly that he's a supporter. In this case, Santorum's use of the word "dominion" suggests he believes in Dominionism, which is essentially that the U.S. should become a Christian theocracy.

The second is to make a frightening accusation about the opposition (i.e., the rational people making up a majority of the Western world) that actually applies to the person making the accusation. In this case, "an attempt to, you know, to centralize power and to give more power to the government." It's a stretch to see how saying "these observations of empirical data lead all but the most obtuse to see that humans are changing the climate, so we should perhaps take steps to mitigate that problem" is radical centralization. It's less of a stretch, however, to see how saying "I want the government to adhere to the theology I believe in and criminalize everything that disagrees with that theology" is anything but.

Dog whistles and accusing your opponents of exactly what you're doing: this is what Lincoln meant in the Cooper Union speech when he said, "A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, 'Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!'"

That is cool indeed.

Tuesday 21 February 2012 14:01:02 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | Religion#
Monday 13 February 2012

Author Sam Harris likens our love of wood fires to other unshakable beliefs:

The case against burning wood is every bit as clear as the case against smoking cigarettes. Indeed, it is even clearer, because when you light a fire, you needlessly poison the air that everyone around you for miles must breathe. Even if you reject every intrusion of the “nanny state,” you should agree that the recreational burning of wood is unethical and should be illegal, especially in urban areas. By lighting a fire, you are creating pollution that you cannot dispose. It might be the clearest day of the year, but burn a sufficient quantity of wood and the air in the vicinity of your home will resemble a bad day in Beijing. ...

Most people I meet want to live in a world in which wood smoke is harmless. Indeed, they seem committed to living in such a world, regardless of the facts. To try to convince them that burning wood is harmful—and has always been so—is somehow offensive. The ritual of burning wood is simply too comforting and too familiar to be reconsidered, its consolation so ancient and ubiquitous that it has to be benign. The alternative—burning gas over fake logs—seems a sacrilege.

The entire essay is worth reading. And when you dig into it, given how few people have ever tried to annihilate their neighbors over wood smoke...well, you can see where Harris is going.

Sunday 12 February 2012 20:45:38 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | Religion#
Thursday 9 February 2012

Zack Beauchamp, writing on Andrew Sullivan's blog, has a well-argued explanation of how the Obama administration is not threatening the religious freedom of the Catholic Church by enforcing regulations on health insurance coverage:

Allowing "conscience" exemptions whenever an employer doesn't feel morally clean when complying with regulations in principle neuters all regulation. The argument for allowing Catholic hospitals a pass on covering birth control has to rest or fall on the specifics of the case rather than a general commitment to protecting "voluntary communities."

This is where the case against the Administration's ruling is at its weakest. Birth control is for 98% of women the principal means of protecting a right central to their own liberty - the right to choose when to create a family. Chances are most women employed by Catholic universities and hospitals are part of the 98%. For these women, not having access to birth control renders a crucially important right meaningless.

I'm fine with religious freedom. I am not fine with religious organizations taking public money, and then claiming special conditions on how they'll accept it.

Wednesday 8 February 2012 21:48:46 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | Religion#
Thursday 2 February 2012

Sure, I've posted photos of the moon before, but it never gets old to me:

Well, all right, at 4½ billion years it is old to me, but you know what I meant.

On a side note, I just Googled "age of the moon" and discovered that many of the top results are from outside the reality-based community. For example, the second item on my results came from the Institute for Creation Research ("Biblical. Accurate. Certain."), in which one Thomas G. Barnes, D.Sc., begins with the assertion: "It takes but one proof of a young age for the moon or the earth to completely refute the doctrine of evolution." If you're a science teacher, you might want to have a look at this article, because it could be a great way to introduce kids to the meanings of theory, hypothesis, and fallacy.

And could someone please tell me what the credential "D.Sc." purports to be?

Thursday 2 February 2012 08:59:22 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | Religion | Astronomy#
Tuesday 17 January 2012

To counter SOPA, a Swedish group has gotten official recognition as a religion on the idea of Holy Information:

The church, which holds CTRL+C and CTRL+V (shortcuts for copy and paste) as sacred symbols, does not directly promote illegal file sharing, focusing instead on the open distribution of knowledge to all.

It was founded by 19-year-old philosophy student and leader Isak Gerson. He hopes that file-sharing will now be given religious protection.

"For the Church of Kopimism, information is holy and copying is a sacrament. Information holds a value, in itself and in what it contains and the value multiplies through copying. Therefore copying is central for the organisation and its members," he said in a statement.

I can't wait to see which angels help them decipher their silicon tablets...

Tuesday 17 January 2012 15:08:22 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | World | Religion#
Friday 13 January 2012

Reader Curtis Manwaring alerted me this morning to movement in the copyright infringement case against Arthur David Olson, late of the Posix time zone database. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has taken up Olson's (and Paul Eggerts') defense, and yesterday threatened a motion for Rule 11 sanctions against the plaintiff's attorney if they don't withdraw the case within 21 days:

If there were ever a pleading that invited Rule 11 sanctions, Plaintiff Astrolabe, Inc.'s Complaint is it. ... Astrolabe's frivolous and unfounded Complaint has already caused harm, and not only to Mr. Olson and Dr. Eggert. ... Perhaps realizing the folly of filing such a Complaint, Astrolabe has not yet served Defendants. Yet Astrolabe refuses to voluntarily dismiss its baseless Complaint, and thus the threat of full-blown copyright litigation looms, to the detriment of Defendants and the public interest in obtaining accurate time zone information on the Internet.

Astrolabe's Complaint illustrates the harm that frivolous claims of copyright infringement can cause to a public, collaboratively maintained factual resource. Under Rule 11, the Court should remedy this abuse of the legal system and deter future abuses by striking the Complaint and awarding defendants their costs and attorney fees.

I predicted this motion back in October. I can't wait to see how Astrolabe and their attorney respond.

Friday 13 January 2012 07:45:33 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Geography | US | Religion | Business#
Wednesday 28 December 2011

Chicago's Francis Cardinal George, the highest-ranking member of the Roman Catholic Church in Chicago, apparently thinks gays are like murderous racists:

George’s initial comments came in connection with a controversy over whether next summer’s gay pride parade would interrupt morning services at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in the Lakeview neighborhood.

“Organizers (of the pride parade) invited an obvious comparison to other groups who have historically attempted to stifle the religious freedom of the Catholic Church,” the cardinal said in a statement issued Tuesday. “One such organization is the Ku Klux Klan which, well into the 1940s, paraded through American cities not only to interfere with Catholic worship but also to demonstrate that Catholics stand outside of the American consensus. It is not a precedent anyone should want to emulate.”

Cardinal, I think you're outside of the American consensus in so many ways, it really doesn't take much to demonstrate this point. However, given the KKK's history of murder, thuggery, intimidation, voter suppression, and did I mention murder?, and the Gay Pride movement's history of being murdered, being beaten in the streets, being intimidated, and did I mention being murdered?, perhaps you want to change the comparison. In fact, opposition to gay rights, murder, intimidation, and so on, is a common theme in Catholic Church history and...well...I think you can see where this is going.

Any comment from the Church?

Wednesday 28 December 2011 15:57:07 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | Religion#
Saturday 10 December 2011

So I thought I'd take another look at Sebastian Gutierrez' film Girl Walks Into a Bar the other day. But before the film started I saw this:

Not knowing what to make of these options, I chose the two minutes of proselytizing and went to make my lunch. When I got back, the movie was on its way without interruptions, as promised.

What the LDS church hopes to accomplish through this PR campaign escapes me for the moment.

Saturday 10 December 2011 12:17:06 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Religion | Business#
Sunday 20 November 2011

Via Sullivan, the L.A. Times reports that atheists are moving toward official recognition in the U.S. military:

Religion — specifically Christianity — is embedded in military culture. The Chaplain Corps traces its origins to the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Until the 1970s, the service academies required cadets to attend chapel services. Nightly prayers still are broadcast throughout Navy ships at sea. ... [N]onbelievers describe themselves as a minority that is often isolated and sometimes closeted.

In practical terms, [Army Capt. Ryan] Jean says, lay-leader status would make it easier for atheists at Ft. Meade to get access to facilities and services on the base. But he says recognition would carry a larger message.

Since a majority of Americans practice religion, it follows that a majority of the military do as well. But the proportion of people who don't, and of military personnel who don't, may be larger than the proportion of people who practice any single religion. They deserve the same mental-health services that military chaplains provide to religionists.

Let's not forget: Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. I daresay if Congress can't, neither can the armed services.

Sunday 20 November 2011 17:36:00 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | Religion#
Friday 14 October 2011

This morning The Daily Parker received a press release from Gary Christen, responding to my analyses of their lawsuit against the guys who maintain the Posix time zone database (here, here, and here).

Unfortunately for Christen, Astrolabe's response fails to rebut my central assertions. I said, essentially, they have failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted by a Federal court (or, as one of my colleagues who actually practices law suggested, their complaint is actionable in itself). Their response doesn't make their original claim any stronger.

Christen seems at pains to make non-technical people feel better about the alarm we technical people raised regarding the likely effects of shutting down the tzinfo project. "Astrolabe has now done a careful reading of ... the various industry publications that broke this story on October 7," Christen claims, but if so it was a reading without comprehension. We technical folks got over our panic in about thirty seconds, in favor of outrage and scorn. And with their detailed, bullet-pointed release, Astrolabe systematically reinforces this writer's outrage and scorn.

Taking each of Christen's points in turn:

1. Astrolabe’s lawsuit is in no way intended to interfere with compilation of current time-zone information maintained by Mssrs. Olson and Eggert, or any other persons.

Read in the light most favoring the plaintiff, this is irrelevant. Read in the light of my office, it's false. Astrolabe's intent is irrelevant in any case; the tzinfo database contains historical and prospective time zone data because computers on occasion need to represent times and dates in the past. For that, and other technical reasons I'll get into in another post, "past" and "future" data can't be separated. Shutting down the tzinfo project shuts down the whole thing.

You can experience more of my outrage at The Daily Parker.

Friday 14 October 2011 08:41:37 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | US | Religion | Business | Astronomy#
Friday 16 September 2011

ParkerI'm David Braverman, this is my blog, and Parker is my 5-year-old mutt. I last updated this About... page in February, but some things have changed. In the interest of enlightened laziness I'm starting with the most powerful keystroke combination in the universe: Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V.

Twice. Thus, the "point one" in the title.

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.
  • Photography. I took tens of thousands of photos as a kid, then drifted away from making art until a few months ago when I got the first digital camera I've ever had that rivals a film camera. 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.
  • The weather. I've operated a weather website for more than ten 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 the other ones I visit whenever I can.

I've deprecated the Software category, but only because I don't post much about it here. That said, I write a lot of software. I work for 10th Magnitude, a startup software consultancy in Chicago, I've got about 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.

Another, non-trivial point. Facebook reads the blog's RSS feed, so many people reading this may think I'm just posting notes on Facebook. Facebook's lawyers would like you to believe this, too. Now, I've reconnected with tons of old friends and classmates through Facebook, I play Scrabble on Facebook, and I eagerly read every advertisement that appears next to its relevant content. But Facebook's terms of use assert ownership of everything that appears on their site, regardless of prior claims, which contravenes four centuries of law.

Everything that shows up on my Facebook profile gets published on The Daily Paker first, and I own the copyrights to all of it (unless otherwise disclosed). I publish the blog's text under a Creative Commons attribution-nonderivative-noncommercial license; republication is usually OK for non-commercial purposes, as long as you don't change what I write and you attribute it to me. My photos, however, are published under strict copyright, with no republication license, even if I upload them to other public websites. If you want to republish one of my photos, just let me know and we'll work something out.

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

Friday 16 September 2011 18:36:32 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Baseball | Biking | Chicago | Cubs | Duke | Geography | Jokes | Kitchen Sink | Parker | Daily | Photography | Politics | US | World | Raleigh | Religion | San Francisco | Software | Blogs | Business | Cool links | Security | Weather | Astronomy | Work#

Via Sullivan, a report that members of an Amish sect in Kentucky have gone to jail over orange triangles on their buggies:

The orange triangles are required on all slow-moving vehicles, according to Kentucky state law.

Nine me

n in the western part of the state have refused to use them. They belong to the Old Order Swartzentruber Amish.

According to court documents, this sect follows a strict code of conduct, called Ordnung, which "regulates everything from hairstyle and dress to education and transportation." They believe that displays of "loud" colors should be avoided, along with the use of "worldly symbols." Swartzentruber Amish believe such symbols indicate the user no longer trusts fully in God.

The Swartzentruber Amish use reflective tape, but refuse to use the orange triangle.

[A friend of the men] says there is another problem with the orange triangle for the Swartzentruber Amish. The triangle is a symbol of the Holy Trinity - God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Swartzentruber Amish believe in the unity of God, says Via, which motivates their refusal to use the symbol, in addition to the other reasons.

But...jail? Well, yes:

After the appeal of their 2008 conviction was denied, Menno Zook, Danny Byler, Mose Yoder, Levi Hotetler, David Zook and Eli Zook refused to pay the small fines associated with their conviction. All six are currently serving sentences ranging from three to 10 days in the Graves County Jail, according to the jail's website.

So, Pinky, are you pondering what I'm pondering? Exactly. Does the first amendment extend to preventing the government fining people for not putting orange triangles on their horse-drawn buggies? As an academic question, I find this fascinating. As a practical matter, I think the state pursuing this is ridiculous. But as a philosophical matter, I say render unto Caesar: if you want to use roads provided by the state, accept the rules that come with it.

Thoughts?

Friday 16 September 2011 18:24:56 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Religion#
Sunday 7 August 2011

From the New Yorker:

UPDATE: Pretty pleased with what I’ve come up with in just six days. Going to take tomorrow off. Feel free to check out what I’ve done so far. Suggestions and criticism (constructive, please!) more than welcome. God out.

COMMENTS (24)

Beta version was better. I thought the Adam-Steve dynamic was much more compelling than the Adam-Eve work-around You finally settled on.

Adam was obviously created somewhere else and then just put here. So, until I see some paperwork proving otherwise, I question the legitimacy of his dominion over any of this.

Heh.

Sunday 7 August 2011 13:04:00 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Jokes | Religion | Blogs#
Tuesday 19 July 2011

Because only in the United States do we have, enshrined in our basic law, the right to establish a city populated exclusively by religious nutters:

Kiryas Joel is an enclave of ultra-orthodox Jews who belong to the Satmar Hasidic sect. Members of this group believe in separating themselves from others – they’d rather not be around non-sect members. Thirty-four years ago, they won the right to create their own village from the surrounding community of Monroe.

The village’s founders might have envisioned an idyllic community where people of a shared faith lived in harmony. It hasn’t worked out that way. As often happens when people live in insular communities, factions emerge. Dissidents in Kiryas Joel don’t like the way the town of about 20,000 is being run. The dissidents, who by some accounts now make up 40 percent of the community, say religious discrimination is rampant. They say if you don’t belong to the right synagogue, you’re a second-class citizen.

Money quote:

A sign at the village entrance admonishes visitors to dress modestly. Cleavage-revealing tops for women are verboten, and both sexes are told to cover arms and legs. Couples are advised to "maintain gender separation in public places." ... Imagine the reaction from the Religious Right if this were a town of fundamentalist Muslims and they erected a sign reading, "Women are welcome to visit if accompanied by a male relative. Please respect our values by wearing a burqa."

Of course, the same constitutional language giving people freedom of religion also takes a little bit back. In fact, the establishment clause comes before the free exercise clause. We adopted the first amendment to prevent having the head of state also be the head of the official church, as it was (and still is) in England. What does this mean for Kiryas Joel? Well, you see, if the village government and the biggest synagogue are the same people...yeah. Thus, the lawsuit.

I'll keep my eye on this.

Monday 18 July 2011 20:06:01 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Religion#
Saturday 7 May 2011

They aired two back-to-back stories on Weekend Edition. First, they reported that for reasons that passeth understanding, the NRA got Florida to pass a law prohibiting doctors from asking about guns in the house:

For decades, the American Academy of Pediatrics has encouraged its members to ask questions about guns and how they're stored, as part of well-child visits.

But Marion Hammer, the National Rifle Association's lobbyist in Tallahassee, says that's not a pediatrician's job.

"We take our children to pediatricians for medical care — not moral judgment, not privacy intrusions," she says. NRA lobbyists helped write a bill that largely bans health professionals from asking about guns. Hammer says she and other NRA members consider the questions an intrusion on their Second Amendment rights.

"This bill is about helping families who are complaining about being questioned about gun ownership, and the growing anti-gun political agenda being carried out in examination rooms by doctors and staffs," Hammer says.

What the...? Getting shot causes medical problems, right? And there's a demonstrated (but not necessarily causal) link between gun ownership and medical risks, right? So asking about guns and other dangerous items in the house might be part of a good medical history, don't you think? Apparently the NRA don't. If they're so concerned about gun-owner privacy, why not pass a privacy law instead? Oh, right—doctors are already forbidden from sharing medical histories.

The story immediately following that one had Barbara Bradley Hagerty asking, completely straight-faced (which is easier to discern on the radio than you might imagine), why people believe May 21st is judgment day:

Most Bible scholars note that even Jesus said he had no idea when Judgment Day would come. But May 21 believers like Haubert are unfazed.

"I've crunched the numbers, and it's going to happen," [actuary Brian Haubert, 33,] says.

Haubert says the Bible contains coded "proofs" that reveal the timing. For example, he says, from the time of Noah's flood to May 21, 2011, is exactly 7,000 years. Revelations like this have changed his life.

"I no longer think about 401(k)s and retirement," he says. "I'm not stressed about losing my job, which a lot of other people are in this economy. I'm just a lot less stressed, and in a way I'm more carefree."

Only last week I read a Mother Jones article about denial science, which opened with a description of The Seekers, who believed aliens would spirit them away on or before the end of the world, which would happen 21 December 1954. After giving up all they owned and waiting for their version of the Rapture, they concluded from the lack of cataclysm that the aliens had seen their devotion and decided to save the planet, thanks to the Seekers. I wonder what Haubert and his friends will say on May 22nd?

Not only that, but: he's an actuary? On the basis of the available information, one must conclude he's not a very good one.

Saturday 7 May 2011 08:53:10 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Religion#
Tuesday 4 January 2011

The Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee is bankrupt:

On the first anniversary of his installation, Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki announced Tuesday afternoon that the archdiocese will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Listecki said the move was necessary to fairly compensate victims and continue the "essential ministries" of the church, and urged the faithful not to blame the victims.

Yes, Archbishop, blaming the children that priests raped for the Church passing the criminals around instead of surrendering them to the secular authorities would be in poor taste.

The story continues:

The bankruptcy petition will not include parishes, schools and other Catholic entities that are separately incorporated, he said.

Just before the news conference, a group of advocates for the victims of clergy sex abuse said bankruptcy allows Listecki to avoid depositions and questions under oath in court about the abuse cases.

"This is about protecting church secrets, not church assets," said David Clohessy, national director of SNAP, the Survivor's Network of those Abused by Priests. "The goal here is to prevent top church managers from being questioned under oath about their complicity, not 'compensating victims fairly.' "

Do you suppose Ratzinger will pass the plate in the Vatican to help the archdiocese?

Tuesday 4 January 2011 15:53:05 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | Religion#

I admit that phrase doesn't have as much pull with Orthodox Jews as it might with other religious groups. Still, the story of an Orthodox couple who don't accept that they're divorced even though they have a perfectly valid divorce under state law encapsulates much of what frustrates me about fundamentalists:

The Friedman case has become emblematic of a torturous issue in which only a husband can "give" a get. While Jewish communities have historically pressured obstinate husbands to give gets, this was a very rare case of seeking to shame the husband in the secular world.

Holding signs saying, "Do the right thing" and "Free your wife," the crowd [protesting outside the husband's apartment] included religious women with their heads covered, men in skullcaps and a rabbi with a bullhorn who shouted, "Withholding a get is abusive."

All parties have said that Mr. Friedman is angry about the custody order, which grants him three weekends a month with his daughter, two of them in Philadelphia, beginning at 6 p.m. on Fridays. As a religious Jew, Mr. Friedman will not drive from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday — so he cannot see his daughter until Sunday.

The custody order is "a joke," said Yisroel Belsky, a prominent Brooklyn rabbi. "The court decided in a bullheaded way not to respect the Shabbos," or Sabbath, he said in a interview.

On the first point: they're divorced. The only reason to get the Get is to marry someone else in a religious service. Nothing, at all, legally prevents either party from marrying right now. But they have chosen to follow their religious laws instead of Maryland's and Pennsylvania's. That's a choice.

On the second point, which is similar: Belsky has it backwards. Mr. Friedman is deciding in a bullheaded way not to drive. He's choosing his religious beliefs over seeing his daughter. Rabbi Belsky should be advised that the judge really can't respect the Sabbath qua Sabbath because of the first amendment; but the judge should respect the agreement of the couple. So the question should be, why did Friedman's lawyer agree to a custody arrangement that ran afoul of Friedman's religion? Or what happened in the courtroom that led to this outcome?

Protesting outside the guy's house and writing to his employer (like one rabbi) cross the line. Get your crazy back in shul where it belongs.

And not to fan the crazy, but can someone tell me why the ex-wife doesn't just rip up the ketubah? Doesn't that accomplish the same thing as a get?

Tuesday 4 January 2011 13:20:45 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Religion#
Sunday 19 December 2010

Via Sullivan, who spends all day surfing the net so you and I don't have to:

Sunday 19 December 2010 11:15:11 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Religion#
Sunday 17 October 2010

Via Sullivan, Kenneth Davis at the Smithsonian sets the record straight on our history:

From the earliest arrival of Europeans on America’s shores, religion has often been a cudgel, used to discriminate, suppress and even kill the foreign, the “heretic” and the “unbeliever”—including the “heathen” natives already here. Moreover, while it is true that the vast majority of early-generation Americans were Christian, the pitched battles between various Protestant sects and, more explosively, between Protestants and Catholics, present an unavoidable contradiction to the widely held notion that America is a “Christian nation.”

... Future President James Madison stepped into the breach. In a carefully argued essay titled “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments,” the soon-to-be father of the Constitution eloquently laid out reasons why the state had no business supporting Christian instruction. Signed by some 2,000 Virginians, Madison’s argument became a fundamental piece of American political philosophy, a ringing endorsement of the secular state that “should be as familiar to students of American history as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution,” as Susan Jacoby has written in Freethinkers, her excellent history of American secularism.

Among Madison’s 15 points was his declaration that “the Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every...man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an inalienable right.”

Madison also made a point that any believer of any religion should understand: that the government sanction of a religion was, in essence, a threat to religion. “Who does not see,” he wrote, “that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects?” Madison was writing from his memory of Baptist ministers being arrested in his native Virginia.

On The Daily Parker, Madison's entire essay.

Sunday 17 October 2010 08:33:07 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Religion#
Wednesday 13 October 2010

Via Sullivan, the dating site okcupid.com analyzed their 3.2 m users to determine that gay people really don't want to date straight people:

The subtext to a lot of homophobic thinking is the idea that gays will try to get straight people into bed at the first opportunity, or that gays are looking to "convert" straights. Freud called this concept schwanzangst; the U.S. Army calls it Don't Ask Don't Tell.

We combed through over 4 million match searches, and found virtually no evidence of it:

Match Search Returns 
» only 0.6% of gay men have ever searched for straight matches.
» only 0.1% of lesbians have ever searched for straight matches.
» only 0.13% of straight people's profile visitors are gay.

Furthermore
In our dataset, there was not a single gay user, male or female, who primarily searched for straight people.

Of course, actually looking at data is no way to have a political argument.

As a side note, the OKCupid guy who wrote the post, Christian Rudder, found this disturbing bit of data:

I also spent a lot of time looking up match questions to debunk this particular claim. Down in the database I discovered one question with a surprising disparity, not between orientations, but between genders. Like Frodo to the Balrog, I wished I'd never unearthed it.

Come on, people. #facepalm.

I'd like to see a couple of regressions on that dataset.

Wednesday 13 October 2010 10:54:01 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Religion#
Thursday 16 September 2010

Apparently a former Hitler Youth called me a Nazi today:

The pontiff praised Britain's fight against the Nazis - who "wished to eradicate God" - before relating it to modern day "atheist extremism".

Afterwards his spokesman Federico Lombardi said: "I think the Pope knows rather well what the Nazi ideology is".

Yes, Ratzinger should know what the Nazi ideology is, but I'm afraid we athiests are rather unlike him. In the same speech he also said, "I also recall the regime's attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives," forgetting, I suppose, how these pastors were resisting the organization he himself wanted to join and how the organization he himself now leads turned Jews over to the Nazis throughout the war.

Really, is there any reason to continue treating this man with the deference and respect we show actual world leaders?

Thursday 16 September 2010 13:48:08 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | World | Religion#
Friday 9 July 2010

The Culture Dash took me back to Kazan Cathedral today, only this time, I went inside:

Friday 9 July 2010 17:51:47 MSD (UTC+04:00)  |  | Duke | Religion#
Friday 14 May 2010

So, with a project running somewhere around 105%, an old and patient client that predates my current employment waiting for some updates, Global Financial Management requiring that I figure out the combined beta of two companies about to merge, Foundations of Strategy expecting a transaction cost analysis Saturday morning, and an overwhelming anticipation of seeing Diane and Parker tomorrow after almost two weeks, I find myself completely out of creativity. Heaven bless my winter office (probably, now that the pizzeria around the corner has left, simply "my remote office").

Fortunately, other people on the Intertubes have plenty of it. Creativity, I mean. Here is a quorum, mostly pinched from Sullivan:

  • The Washington Post has a list of twelve things to toss out this spring, as written by Elizabeth Warren, Karl Rove, and Onion editor Joe Randazzo. (The last is an indictment of Internet memes.) There's also a bit on virginity.
  • Writer Andrea Donderi posits a dichotomy between Asker and Guesser cultures. In Cultures, Civilization, and Leadership (one of the CCMBA's core classes) we'd look at this in terms of ICE profiles, which I would explain if I could find the link. (See above re: being overloaded.) This comes via The Guardian, who have the distinction this week of having endorsed for prime minister the guy who became deputy PM. By the way, this kind of embarassment (two guys running against each other only to have to work together as #1 and #2) hasn't happened in the US since 1800. But that's not important right now.
  • While on the subject, it's a little daunting that we haven't had our midterms yet and I've made no progress on the video, but there are only 50 days until our next residency starts. (See above re: being really overloaded.)
  • Finally, Sam Harris has a new demolition of the Catholic Church Good line near the top: "This scandal was one of the most spectacular 'own goals' in the history of religion, and there seems to be no need to deride faith at its most vulnerable and self-abased." (I would explain that my views are probably more moderate than Harris's, and yet I enjoy his writing, but see above re: being really monster raving loony overloaded.)

Shannon has brought my last drink and my check, my teammate KW is busy compiling all of our notes for Strategy, and Parker, I expect, is getting a relaxing belly-scratch from Diane 1,000 km away. I think we're all OK with this, but Parker has the best deal.

Also, for those of you watching in real time, yes: I posted this blasted entry five times in quick succession, because I kept finding typos. This should come as great news to the people currently engaged in Scrabble games with me on Facebook.

Thursday 13 May 2010 21:13:26 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Duke | Parker | US | World | Religion#
Monday 12 April 2010

As reported earlier, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens do not like the Pope's actions in dealing with child abuse. Dawkins has clarified his remarks:

Needless to say, I did NOT say "I will arrest Pope Benedict XVI" or anything so personally grandiloquent. You have to remember that The Sunday Times is a Murdoch newspaper, and that all newspapers follow the odd custom of entrusting headlines to a sub-editor, not the author of the article itself.

What I DID say to Marc Horne when he telephoned me out of the blue, and I repeat it here, is that I am whole-heartedly behind the initiative by Geoffrey Robertson and Mark Stephens to mount a legal challenge to the Pope's proposed visit to Britain. Beyond that, I declined to comment to Marc Horme, other than to refer him to my 'Ratzinger is the Perfect Pope' article here: http://richarddawkins.net/articles/5341.

I thought it sounded unusually acerbic, even for Dawkins.

Monday 12 April 2010 15:38:02 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | World | Religion#

Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, whose work I have followed for years, want to arrest the Pope when he visits the U.K. in September:

Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, the atheist author, have asked human rights lawyers to produce a case for charging Pope Benedict XVI over his alleged cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic church.

The pair believe they can exploit the same legal principle used to arrest Augusto Pinochet, the late Chilean dictator, when he visited Britain in 1998.

Dawkins and Hitchens believe the Pope would be unable to claim diplomatic immunity from arrest because, although his tour is categorised as a state visit, he is not the head of a state recognised by the United Nations.

I think the Pope's conduct in the child-abuse cover-up completely destroys any credibility and moral authority Ratzinger claims to have through his office. Still, despite the history of the U.K. vis a vis the Catholic Church, I caution Dawkins that perhaps this isn't the best way to make his case.

I think Dawkins was correct last month when he suggested the Pope "should remain in charge of the whole rotten edifice - the whole profiteering, woman-fearing, guilt-gorging, truth-hating, child-raping institution - while it tumbles," which creates dramatic irony, rather than trying to arrest him, which makes Ratzinger a victim. I just hope more children aren't tied up and raped before it happens.

Monday 12 April 2010 10:09:18 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | World | Religion#
Thursday 25 March 2010

Today the Vatican announced that there has been no cover-up in the latest U.S. sex-abuse scandal, and could we all just leave the Pope alone?

This whole thing must feel like someone stampeded cattle through St. Peter's.

But let's be serious. It looks quite like the current Pope intervened in the Ecclesiastical trial of a priest accused of molesting 200 deaf boys, and failed to act on dozens of other cases:

The internal correspondence from bishops in Wisconsin directly to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope, shows that while church officials tussled over whether the priest should be dismissed, their highest priority was protecting the church from scandal.

More after the jump...

Thursday 25 March 2010 12:33:08 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World | Religion#
Sunday 14 March 2010

Via Dan Savage, a meta-analysis showing a correlation (not necessarily causation) between religious dogmatism and racism:

The February issue of Personality and Social Psychology Review has published a meta-analysis of 55 independent studies conducted in the United States which considers surveys of over 20,000 mostly Christian participants. Religious congregations generally express more prejudiced views towards other races. Furthermore, the more devout the community, the greater the racism.

This study finds that a denomination's demand for devout allegiance to its Christian creed overrides any humanistic message. By demanding such devotion to one specific and dogmatic Christianity, a denomination only encourages its members to view outsiders as less worthy.

Moreover, the study found that agnosticism correlates with tolerance, to which I think one should add "Q.E.D."

Again, the study doesn't show causation, only correlation. Religion doesn't itself make one racist. Possibly the conditions that lead someone to religious dogmatism also lead to racism; possibly the communities in which more-devoted religionists live are in areas with historically higher racism.

Sunday 14 March 2010 12:12:48 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | US | Religion#
Wednesday 13 January 2010

Thousands dead, a country devastated, and this clown blames the devil? Seriously:

"Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it," [Televangelist Pat Robertson] said on Christian Broadcasting Network's "The 700 Club." "They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III, or whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, we will serve you if you'll get us free from the French. True story. And so, the devil said, okay it's a deal."

Assuming for a moment that Robertson isn't an ignorant, medieval, superstitious, wretched man, and that Haiti did make a pact with Satan, one must ask where Robertson came by this information. Possibly he was in the queue behind Haiti, waiting for his turn at the deal window?

No, that's just mean. Neither Robertson nor Haiti made a pact with the devil, and neither Robertson nor Haiti deserves what they have right now. Haiti doesn't deserve the suffering, the death, the destruction, the French colonial history, the dictators who took power, the poor soil, the lack of rainfall, or anything else that has led to where they are this evening. Robertson, for his part, doesn't deserve his money, his power, his influence, or anything else that has allowed this latest public utterance of such far-reaching and anti-Christian stupidity the audience it got.

Anyway, the devil, if he existed, wouldn't work through earthquakes. He'd work through televangelists.

Wednesday 13 January 2010 17:09:56 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | Religion#
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David Braverman is a software developer in Chicago, and the creator of Weather Now. Parker is the most adorable dog on the planet, 80% of the time.
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