Archive for June, 2008

I read the news today, oh boy

June 22, 2008 5 comments

Three news stories have raced by me this week, while I’ve been both busy and not feeling very well. But fortunately they’ve been excellently covered by some of my favorite bloggers:

Did you hear about John Freshwater?  He’s the creationist science teacher in a public school in Mount Vernon, Ohio, who constantly proselytized his students and burned crosses onto the arms of a few of them.  Of course when he got fired, he tried to spin it as “they fired me for having a bible on my desk” but as Paul at Cafe Philos explains in The firing of John Freshwater, there so much more to it than that.

My prediction; he’ll be teaching at some Christian academy in the fall, and be a popular hero in the fundamentalist circuit.

The other story that just floored me was the House pretty much giving the telecoms a free pass on illegal wiretapping for the Bush administration.  This is how far we’ve come, folks; the Nixon administration was brought down by a cover-up of one office being wiretapped, but the Bush administration brags about wiretapping the whole damn country and the house backs them up 293 to 129.  ***Dave at ***Dave Does The Blog says he’s too ticked off to write rationally about it, but he still covered it a lot more calmly than I would have in “I Have A Note From My Mom”.  And he has some excellent external links.  Me, I’m still at the incoherent spitting-mad stage.

My prediction; none of the Bush administration will ever be brought to justice for anything.  Not the gigantic deficit, not the wiretapping, not the lying to get us into a war that didn’t have to happen, not the torture, not the gutting of science-driven policy, not the illegal “faith-based” funding, none of it.  They’ll all be popular heroes on FOX news as they spin their un-American misdeeds as “patriotism”.  (I’m not going very far out on a limb here – that’s been the fate of pretty much the entire Reagan administration)

War with Iran anybody?  The next big story is already on Dana’s radar at En Tequila Es Verdad with yesterday’s Happy Hour Discurso, along with some good links to contact your representatives.  Because, anyone who doesn’t realize that President Bush wants to go to war with Iran is just being naive.  Shrub wants to leave a nice hot steaming pile of war on the chair in the oval office for our next president.  It’s his warped sense of “destiny”; he really believes he’s on a Mission From God to bring Democracy-by-force to the MidEast.  All he’s missing is the dark sunglasses and the charcoal Fedora.

I offer no prediction on this story, only hope that idiocy will not carry the day and that for once, we’ll act like real conservatives and not get another one of our limbs stuck in yet another foreign wood-chipper.  Unfortunately much of the idiocy in question is the “let’s bring on Armageddon so the Lord can return” variety.  There’s no reasoning with it, there’s only exposing it for what it is and hoping the majority will go the other way.


  • Mike The Mad Biologist serves up excellent post-game analysis with Democrats Cave On FISA And The Rule Of Law, including an interview with constitutional law expert Jonathan Turley from George Washington University on “Reverse Engineering”, or changing the law to allow past conduct.

  • The question I have not heard addressed by anyone is: how many congressmen and senators received campaign contributions from telecoms?
  • In Paul’s post on Freshwater, Ed Darrell from Millard Filmore’s Bathtub left in a comment an outstanding summation of separation of church and state.
Categories: News, observations

Suicide and religion

June 21, 2008 6 comments

Early this week I went to a university-sponsored suicide-prevention seminar.  The idea is that students, faculty, and staff can learn how to recognize the signs of potentially fatal depression, persuade sufferers to get the help that is available, and make the right referral.  It’s called QPR, or Question, Persuade, Refer.  It was OK, certainly no worse than most institutional attempts to help with serious problems and better than many.  At the end there was a question-and-answer period.

One of the attendees stood up in back, and said something like;

“This approach is fine, it’s OK, but as a Christian I just want to say that you shouldn’t forget the power of God to help them, the power of belief.  When someone’s hurting, let them know God loves them and Jesus cares,  I just have to say that, as a Christian.  That God is important.  I’m a Christian so this is what I believe.”

The group was breaking up and, and the presenter mumbled something like “yes, when it’s appropriate” but none of the other attendees responded. I’m sure the religion-touter had good intentions but you know the old saying.  And (being slow-witted and averse to confrontation) I didn’t think of a response until much later:

Christianity starts with the premise that we’re all unworthy sinners, who deserve to burn in hell unless we’re redeemed by the sacrificial blood of Jesus.  That’s a recipe for depression, not a cure.  You can’t tout salvation from guilt manufactured by your religion itself and then try to claim the high road.

When there are a lot of different approaches to a problem, it’s a sign that none of them works very well. Most people who are depressed eventually get better on their own, and if it happens to coincide with a religious conversion, religion gets the credit. But, never the blame when it makes things worse later. The basic Christian meme is self-justifying, creating the need for itself in mythic guilt. 

I don’t propose a simple solution to depression because it isn’t a simple problem.  It might help for the depressed person to know that changing moods are part of the human condition.  It might help to have the society of friends and loved ones who have been through it and verify that the Earth is still turning even when it seems like morning will never come.  The best we can do is be there for one another, try to prevent tragedy, and try not make things worse. 

“Lisa, I apologize to you, I was wrong, I take it all back.  Always be yourself.  If you want to be sad, honey, be sad. We’ll ride it out with you.  And when you get finished feeling sad, we’ll still be there.  From now on, let me do the smiling for both of us.’‘
- Marge Simpson to Lisa in episode #6, Moaning Lisa

  • I found a number of studies which claim to demonstrate a lower suicide rate for people who regularly attend religious services.  Unanswered by these studies are the role of the community effect (you see other people in a common activity at church) or if religious prohibitions against suicide prevent the act without addressing the condition.

  • I also found studies that showed a higher suicide rate in some secular societies, where there are no laws against assisting the act.  The studies did not seem to distinguish between depression or terminal illness as a trigger, or if the lack of prohibition meant that more deaths were likely to be counted as suicides than in countries where legal and financial consequences follow.
  • I found no studies that suggested depression itself is less common or less severe among religious people.  Indeed the bible itself contains considerable evidence to the contrary, as do the writings of nearly every prominent religious leader who has ever lived.  Depression does seem to correlate with creativity; neither religious or secular history books are populated with upbeat, sunny personalities.
Categories: Religion

“500-year flood”

June 19, 2008 1 comment

I often see news stories that say, “Scientists estimate that last week’s deluge was a 500-year flood”.  But that doesn’t make much sense; there was a 500-year flood in 1993 and we’re having another one now.  What gives?

Chris Rowan at Highly Allochthonous says big surprise, the scientists never said “500-year flood’, or at least they’re learning not to after the media grabs their conclusions and twists them into sensationalistic headlines.

Here’s the short version: events that are both extreme and semi-random are impossible to predict in a given year, so we express them as a probability.  As in, “the probability of a river flow matching this rate is .002 in any given year.”  News creatures hear that statement, think back to junior high math and think; “That’s one in 500!  That means a flood like this one occurs every 500 years!” 

No it doesn’t, any more than it means that every other flip of a coin will be ‘heads’.  And – as data becomes available, extrapolations give way to observations and the probability estimates are revised.  The long version, and the comments following, are well worth reading as an antidote to the chattering journalistic class.

Larry Gonick’s new comic(s)

June 18, 2008 Comments off

I’m a huge fan of Larry Gonick and his Cartoon Guides… to the Universe, to Physics, to Sex, to Statistics, to Chemistry, to… well lots of stuff… he is truly a Renaissance man.  And to borrow a phrase from his Cartoon Guide to Non-Communication, “Now this:”

Dear Fans,
I’ve just launched a new comic strip, Raw Materials, on the Discovery Channel’s web site. It’s a li’l 4-panel number that features four budding scientist-type kids. Check it out!

Yea!  But wait, there’s more… while hunting up the graphic to use for this post I found out he already had two other comics I didn’t know about; Commoners, and Kokopelli and Company.  All three, just now added to my sidebar Comics links.  Enjoy!

Categories: Reviews

The Big Picture

June 17, 2008 2 comments

Boston Globe’s The Big Picture is an awesome feature I’ve been meaning to post about.  Check it out – the top story right now is the closest picture of a tornado that I have ever seen.  Scroll down the page and if you click on a picture, it opens up to a gallery of pictures on that subject.  Current stories include Midwest flooding, California fires, Soaked soccer, Faces of Sudan, Sidoarjo’s man-made mud volcano, Water everywhere, The Sky From Above, and much more.

Beautiful, informative, terrifying, amazing.  I’ll put a permanent link in my news sources section on the sidebar. Enjoy!

Categories: News, observations

Habeas… what?

June 17, 2008 5 comments

A telling quote from John McCain:

We are now going to have the courts flooded with so-called, quote, Habeas Corpus suits against the government, whether it be about the diet, whether it be about the reading material. And we are going to be bollixed up in a way that is terribly unfortunate, because we need to go ahead and adjudicate these cases.

Is it possible, is it even conceivable, that United States Senator John McCain doesn’t know what “habeas corpus” means?  Because his statement certainly suggests that he does not.  He sounds way too ignorant to be voting on Supreme Court justices, let alone appointing them.  He’s a perfect example of how far an engaging smile and a heroic story will take you in American politics.

The right wing keeps using the word; “Freedom”, but I do not think it means what they think it means.  Our whole country was founded on the notion of limits to power.  The king had a nasty habit of dropping people into black holes of imprisonment without a trial.  They might be bad, bad, horrible people or they might just be an embarrassment to the king, with the same result and there was no recourse.  It had nothing to do with prison conditions.

It fascinates me that people on the right wing distrust the government so much in everything else, yet they’re willing to let the government have unlimited powers to “keep them safe”.  When did our government become so trustworthy that it could operate without oversight?

Categories: Law, Politics

Congratulations Jon & Katie Weber

June 16, 2008 2 comments

My friend Jon married his sweetheart Katie this Saturday in Kankakee, IL.  MrsDoF and I were there for the happy event.

Happiness and long life together! 

Jon and Katie plan to make their home in the Quad Cities. 

Categories: Personal

Flooded Cedar Rapids

June 15, 2008 2 comments

Take a boat tour of Cedar Rapids. Interesting notes in the video: huge underground gas tanks pop out of the ground when submerged – I didn’t know that.  And car trunk locks short out when submerged, popping the trunk open.  Didn’t know that either.

Worse, the flooded area is a huge cultural loss.  There’s an African American museum, a Czech museum, a theatre, a Nature Center.  Apparently the water was something like 12 feet higher than the ‘93 floods.

And here’s a bunch of people in Iowa City demonstrating how much confidence they have in the Burlington Street Bridge.  There’s a dam directly under their feet, normally with 3 or 4 feet of water flowing over it – now 18 feet or so.  And here are some amazingly well-edited aerial photos of the Iowa City area. where I lived from about ‘62 to ‘69.  And incredible aerial footage from Des Moines.

Great choices of music on those videos but I would have preferred informative narration.  Just my two cents.


Quote of the day

June 15, 2008 1 comment

What?!!! I thought it was every American’s duty to spend, spend, spend:

“Given the way gas prices were going, the way traffic is, the difficulty of parking, I realized a car just wasn’t that cost-effective,” said Glynn, 41, a 5th-grade teacher in Bucktown. “So I never got around to buying another car.”
- Chicago Tribune: More commuters choose to pedal right past pumps, 15jun08

Yeah!  What he said!



Beer: the new third rail of American politics

June 15, 2008 2 comments

From Paul:

Remember the right wing going nuts over Howard Deans’ laryngitis? Is that really all that’s needed to derail a candidate in a nation election – a moment out of context that looks or sounds weird from the right angle, but has no bearing on policy whatsoever?  Pretty stupid criticism of a candidate, wasn’t it, but they got real political mileage out of it.  Which doesn’t say much for the voters, I’m afraid, if a discussion of crucial policy debates can be derailed by ten seconds of video in which a candidate’s voice broke while cheering on his campaign workers. 

Of course there are substantive things to criticize McCain for, like his admittedly shaky grasp of economics, his even more tenuous understanding of constitutional law, his deliberate attraction to whacky religious leaders who make Rev. Wright look like Robert Schuller, his unrepentant jingoism, or the fact that he doesn’t know a Shiite from a Sunni from his ejection shute.  But why bother?  We have him vetoing beer.

Hah!  He tried to cover it up a moment later by switching to “bill with earmarks” but he’s a closet prohibitionist!  He’ll take away our BEER!!!

(By the way, senator McCain, since you like vetoes you might be interested to know that President Clinton vetoed 63 spending bills and all but 13 of the vetoes stood up to challenge.  Until just recently Bush never vetoed anything until he started vetoing for ideological reasons.  And you, senator, voted with Mr. Bush 100% of the time last year.  So knock off all that guff about how you’re going to change Washington; you won’t.)


Categories: Politics