Archive for April, 2010

Criminals of the week

April 29, 2010

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How the right deals with Nazis vs. How the left deals with Nazis

April 28, 2010

A couple of weeks ago those teabagger people had their April 15 demos. They had been on their toes looking for infiltrators who would pose while carrying ridiculous signs so that the media would report on how crazy those teabaggers were. To be fair, there’s something to that fear because some blogger announced exactly that as a strategy, and he tried to organize people to that end.

But in this instance, what it looks like is that some honestly racist person decided to show up to protest big guvmint in a swastika shirt. So the Republican teabaggers decided he was a “crasher” and kind of sort of chased him out. So good for them, I guess.

I’m not so much interested in their paranoia or their willingness to believe he wasn’t really “one of them” with no evidence whatsoever. That’s kind of to be expected from those people. But what’s even funnier is how lame and weak their response to this guy was:

Oh no! He’s on NOTICE. Tsk, tsk…

I’m not a violent guy, and if I were in their shoes I’d probably try to talk to him for at least a minute before attacking, too. But sheesh… Talk about using kid gloves on an open fascist.

So that’s one case of how the right deals with Nazis. Basically they wag their fingers at them while calling them “Sir” and make sure the media sees them doing it. And then they let him stick around.

On the other hand:

Three men wearing Nazi garb sparked a brawl with approximately 50 people outside a hardcore punk concert in Philadelphia.
Witnesses said the men were mocked inside the Khyber club Friday night for sporting tattoos of Nazi symbols and wearing camouflaged combat pants, WWII-style coats emblazoned with SS emblems and Third Reich hats with Nazi insignias…
“One Nazi was caught right in the middle of 2nd street as punches, kicks, bottles, boots and blows rained down upon his prone and turtled body. He could be heard crying for help all up and down the block,” the Examiner report read. “The other two were caught nearby and beaten severely.”…
The Examiner reported that the fracas inspired Murphy’s Law to write and play an impromptu song called, “You Should Have Known Better,” prompting an uproarious response from concert-goers.

Unfortunately I cannot find video of the beating. And you better believe I looked.

To be fair, a punk show isn’t exactly a political gathering – but it’s pretty close to one. On the other hand, nobody in Murphy’s Law starting ranting about how the Nazis were plants from some other band’s fanbase. I guess they were confident enough that things would kind of work themselves out, which it seems they did. LOLenfreude.

Stephen Baldwin would like all of your money right now, please.

April 27, 2010

OMG you guys, Stephen Baldwin’s in trouble! Remember him? He was in movies like The Usual Suspects and… um… uhhh… well, yeah!

Since becoming “born again” through the power of the Jesus, he hasn’t been able to find very much work and has probably blown all his money on gay prostitutes and methamphetamine, like most conservative Christians do. So either the Tax Man or pimps or drug dealers or someone like that is after him for cash.

But don’t despair, fellow Stephen Baldwin fans – for there is a way to restore him to his previous… glory? Acclaim? Status? Let’s go with ‘status.’

You see, since God is all powerful and much better than you, he got to restore Job, who was a pretty bad ass counterapologist in the old days. But since you’re much lamer, you’re stuck with restoring Stephen Baldwin, who is kind of like Job in that they are both supposed to be humans.

So PLEASE give all your money to these people because they actually want him to speak out to a bigger audience, which would be hilarious. DO IT RIGHT NOW.

Boobquake backfired

April 26, 2010

Oh no

UPDATE: Oh, OK.

Hungarian Jesus

April 25, 2010

So Jesus is still making the paredolia rounds. To briefly recap, lately we’ve seen Jesus in a frying pan, a ceiling, a toiletIndian food, a moth, a cloudnaan bread, a hospital, a coconutcat’s furgum, a barbecue cover, a banana, a curtain, and the surface of Mars. Now he’s showing up on Google Earth which proves that Google really is supernatural. Here’s a screen shot:

That settles it. Jesus is Hungarian and owned by Google.

Stuff

April 25, 2010

  • The Onion: Joe Biden banned for life from Dave & Buster’s.
  • NY Times: Interview with physicist Sean Carroll on time travel.
  • Center for Inquiry: Bob Price (“the Bible Geek”) on Elijah and the she-bears in 2 Kings 2.
  • Cracked: If the internet took over our schools.
  • National Geographic: Amazing pictures of the klgj;eagbfrnhgiolj volcano in Iceland.
  • The Guardian: Matt Taibbi on Goldman Sachs.
  • BBC Earth: David Attenborough and the DIY Orangutans.

The anthropic principle

April 25, 2010

There are really two different anthropic principles; the ‘strong’ one and the ‘weak’ one. The latter is pretty much a tautology. If the most basic laws of the Universe would different, then the Universe itself would look differently. There’s not much controversy there, it’s pretty straightforward. So here I’ll be focusing on the ‘strong’ anthropic principle.

As you might’ve guessed, the strong anthropic principle goes a bit further than the weak one. Lurking behind it is this assumption that the balance of natural laws in such a way as to produce life (specifically our own lives) must be maintained by some intelligent entity with a plan for humanity, as if it somehow knew we would exist some 13.7 billion years before our time when the physical constants were established. The physicists/cosmologists John D Barrow and Frank Tipler expressed this in their 1986 book, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle:

There exists one possible Universe ‘designed’ with the goal of generating and sustaining ‘observers.’

Now we know that even just with materials found here on Earth and without any intelligent input whatsoever, natural processes can produce things which look very much like they have a purpose or a goal. For example:

That looks like it was designed by humans in order to accommodate travel from one area to another. But the reality is that it formed naturally without any intelligent input. The point here to remember is that we should be careful to avoid being deluded into seeing a goal or a purpose where there isn’t any. The fact that there are living things in Virginia which can use the natural bridge pictured above doesn’t necessarily mean that it was created for that specific goal. Similarly, we can’t assume that our existence was presupposed just because we happen to exist.

The only reason we can even think about an anthropic principle is because we’re already here. If different physical constants could also produce life in different Universes, then they’d be wondering the same thing. It’s only by necessity that we only hear about how great our Universe was to produce us. Other Universes in a multi-verse could also produce life by saying how awesome their own particular physical constants were to produce them.

The late British science fiction author Douglas Adams had come up with one of the best responses along these lines:

“[I]magine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it’s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be all right, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.”

The point that Adams got to towards the end of that quote is what makes the strong anthropic principle not just nonsense, but dangerous nonsense. If the Universe or a God or whatever had us in mind as the lead in some epic cosmic plan, then we don’t really need to worry about environmental destruction or extinction by meteors or anything like that. It takes that responsibility out of our hands – and we as a species seem to like not having much responsibility in general.

Even against our own interests, we’re predisposed to accept the strong anthropic principle (or anthropo-centric principle, as Carl Sagan put it). We’d like to be special and the pinnacle of existence, and at the same time we’d like for a Big Brother to protect us from dangers, even dangers we might inflict upon ourselves. We’re so compelled by this combination of protection and self-aggrandizement that even unscrupulous leaders in politics, religion, and economics who might not have even heard of the anthropic principle make some crude use of it for their own purposes.

For more on the history and problems on these issues, I’d reccommend Massimo Pigliucci’s recent writings on the subject.

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Anwar al-Awlaki

April 24, 2010

UPDATE: The Department of Justice is now considering filing charges against al-Awlaki.

Anwar al-Awlaki is an American citizen thought to be living in Yemen who makes videos praising al Qaeda. He’s also had an e-mail exchange with Nidal Malik Hasan at some point before his shooting spree at Fort Hood last November.

Earlier this month, the Obama administration authorized the targetted killing of al-Awlaki. From the NY Times:

The Obama administration has taken the extraordinary step of authorizing the targeted killing of an American citizen, the radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is believed to have shifted from encouraging attacks on the United States to directly participating in them, intelligence and counterterrorism officials said Tuesday.

There are a few problems with this, and they’re really split into two categories. On the one hand you can argue that this sets bad precedent and gives too much power to the executive branch. It’s a denial of due process even more extreme than anything the Bush administration ever did. Even if you’re in agreement with Obama on this one, there’s still the danger of future presidents abusing their power by following this precedent. These are the kinds of loftier arguments based on the principle of the rule of law which has been the foundation of western civilization.

There’s some good evidence against al-Awlaki, and it’s very unlikely that he’d be found not guilty. But the whole point of having a legal system in the first place is to find out whether or not someone is guilty of a crime. If the evidence holds up, then we can honestly say that we’ve tried our best to do justice while he’s rotting away locked up in a cell somewhere. If the evidence doesn’t hold up, then we find out that we were wrong. You win either way when you use the law instead of circumventing it.

It might even be that al-Awlaki is not even guilty of the crimes he’s accused of. Although Spencer Ackerman at the Washington Independent says “Any court would find him guilty of incitement” just due to his videos, other charges relating to direct involvement in terrorist activities aren’t quite so solid. From that noted commie rag which, upon investigating after 9/11 “Why They Hate Us,” discovered that the answer was because we’re SO AWESOME; Newsweek:

To begin with, it is not even known for certain that Awlaki is a member of Al Qaeda. Certainly there are suspicions, and his published statements and interviews clearly support Al Qaeda, but the organization has never acknowledged him. His name has been mentioned exactly once in 12 issues of Sada al-Malahim (“The Echo of Battles”), the organization’s bimonthly journal. And even that citation was hardly an endorsement: it merely disputed recent claims that Awlaki had been killed in a joint U.S.-Yemeni airstrike. He has never written an article, released an audiotape, or starred in a video for the organization. Each of these is an integral part of the group’s propaganda outreach that senior AQAP leaders have done multiple times.

What’s more, there is no evidence to suggest Awlaki is on AQAP’s legal council, an internal group that both provides the religious justification for attacks and guides the future direction of the organization. Nor is there even a hint that he plays anything resembling a leading role in the group.

Even his links to the two attacks are more speculative and assumed than concrete. Awlaki is known to have exchanged e-mails with Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter (he confirmed as much to Al-Jazeera), and to being in contact with Abdulmutallab, whom he called his “student.” (Abdulmutallab is thought to have attended one of Awlaki’s sermons in London.) But he never acknowledged meeting either man.

Newsweek then goes into some of the reasons to oppose this based on the second category I referred to earlier. Even if you don’t buy into the idea that the President should not be above the law and that due process is important, there’s still no good reason to just kill this guy. If he’s guilty of some of the heavier terrorism charges, he’d be an excellent source of information. It’s tough to get intelligence from a corpse.

And what’s more is that the perceived positive effects of such an assassination are pretty unlikely to actually happen. It’s not going to destabilize al Qaeda. If anything it’d give them a martyr and a recruiting mantra. They’re all pretty much as batshit crazy as it’s possible to get, but when they say that Americans don’t care about justice we’re giving them an air of legitimacy on that matter when we do crap like this.

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Earthquakes, Iran, & Boobs

April 24, 2010

This should kind of make some sort of sense by the end of this post

The first funny thing about earthquakes and Iran comes from that country’s always hilariously unhinged figurehead, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. You see, he is worried about earthquakes in Iran’s capitol city. This is a reasonable concern since Tehran in on a major fault line. But his response to it, well, it’s not so reasonable because lol Ahmadinejad. From the Telegraph:

“We cannot order people to evacuate the city… but provisions have to be made. At least five million should leave Tehran so it is less crowded and more manageable in case of an incident,” Mehr news agency quoted him as saying.

No big deal, right? Just 5 million or so. It’s kind of like moving half of New York City to Albany. Those other 7 million people are probably all assholes anyway, I guess.

In most modern countries, cities on a fault line compensate for the risk by improving building codes, monitoring problematic areas, educating the public on how best to respond, that sort of thing. But Iran’s President seems to want to move toward a more drastic route. To find out why he sees the matter as so incredibly urgent right at this point in time, we might do well to see how his religious leaders may have influenced him.

And as it turns out, this very well could be the case. An imam called Ayatollah Kazem Sedighi had a few insights based on his up-to-date study of geology which is apparently contained completely within the Koran. Let’s see what he has to say about all this. From the Telegraph:

“Many women who dress inappropriately … cause youths to go astray, taint their chastity and incite extramarital sex in society, which increases earthquakes,” [Sedighi] told worshippers at a Tehran prayer service late last week.

Ahmadinejad’s position as president of Iran is more of a secular one than his official clerics. So as a ‘practical’ politician, he’s going to hedge his bets on whether or not Allah will be merciful (6:54, among other places, in the Koran) and try to get 5,000,000 people to just up and move to the sticks… Just as a Plan B in case of the extremely unlikely scenario where Sedighi’s plan to dress women as beekeepers actually doesn’t reduce the amount of earthquakes.

Anyway, Jennifer McCreight, a grad student at Perdue (for full disclosure, I should probably mention that she’s also on the same atheist blogroll as me, which is linked to in the sidebar to the right), decided to carry out an experiment since the good Imam’s claim seemed testable. She calls it Boobquake, but I prefer the National Day of Cleavage. She’s inviting women to dress immodestly this Monday (April 26) and then will analyze seismic readings from around the world in order to see if there are any statistically significant deviations which could confirm or falsify Sedighi’s hypothesis inre: boobs/earthquakes.

There’s also a Facebook page, and as Jennifer’s been getting tons of press for this it’s gotten pretty popular. NY Magazine, the NY Post, the Times of India, and CNN have covered this, and that’s only after a minute of searching.

LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening (2010)

April 21, 2010

This album will be released on May 17. There is a link to a torrent in the artwork above. Here are their tour dates. And here is a video for their first single, Drunk Girls:

Comedy is tragedy plus idiots

April 21, 2010

Criminals of the week

April 20, 2010

  • George Washington had a very overdue library book, $300,000 fine. (link)
  • Two convicts escaped prison by dressing up as sheep. (link)
  • Man loses his driver’s license after driving drunk in a toy Barbie car. (link)
  • Jeremy Scahill: Blackwater indictments are like Al Capone going down for tax evasion. (link)
  • New Hampshire’s liquor commissioner charged with DWI. (link)
  • Former head of Bensalem, PA SVU charged with sexual assault. (link)

Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record (2010)

April 20, 2010

Broken Social Scene‘s new album is not out yet, but there’s a torrent link in the artwork above. You will be able to buy the album on May 4. They are another band from Toronto who hasn’t released an album in a long time, just like Holy Fuck.

Here are their tour dates. There will also be a bonus EP for pre-ordering or if you buy it at HMV in Canada or any record store in the US. And if you were wondering where the video of part of one of their new songs accompanied with video from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, your concerns can be addressed below:

Stuff

April 20, 2010

National Day of Prayer ruled unconstitutional

April 20, 2010

The Freedom From Religion Foundation‘s long-running case against the Bush administration for the National Day of Prayer has finally come to a kind of sort of conclusion last week when federal district Judge Barbara Crabb ruled the NDoP unconstitutional.

First, something about the FFRF. They have a certain legal strategy which is kind of controversial, even amongst freethought activists. Their strategy is basically to take every church/state separation issue very seriously and technically, and then to sue on as many of them as possible.

Some other organizations, like American Atheists, try to discourage this kind of strategy because it can lead to bad precedents. They encourage people to only take legal action when it’s clear that the case is going to come out in their favor.

So if you’re in a situation where secularism is being threatened and the legal system you would have to appeal to is stacked against you, then it would be better to wait for the political climate to change before bringing up the issue at all. Otherwise, you make an unofficial and semi-unspoken Establishment Clause violation into an official and legal Establishment Clause violation by setting a bad precedent. So there’s this discussion going on between those advocating legal action based on political tact (like American Atheists) and those advocating action based on principle (FFRF).

What this case makes clear is that we need a little of both of these strategies and to simultaneously be taking risks while understanding the probabilities of winning. Even though they may sometimes make bad precedent, and even though it’s easy to make fun of Dan Barker on the Daily Show, and maybe his debating leaves something to be desired, the FFRF also sometimes wins in court, and wins big.

There is, however, some question as to how big this victory will turn out to be. From the Associated Press:

Obama spokesman Matt Lehrich said in an e-mail to The Associated Press the president still plans to issue a proclamation for the next prayer day.

“As he did last year, President Obama intends to recognize a National Day of Prayer,” Lehrich said.

Now Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice (Get it? It’s the ACLJ, kind of like that other organization except totally different), which is defending both the Bush and Obama administrations in this case, is now appealing to a higher court. So this isn’t over yet. But, as far as I understand it, the judge’s ruling is still law while the appeal is pending.

The NDoP is scheduled for the first Thursday in May, so it is very difficult to believe that the appeals process will be over by then. So even if this ends up being overturned by a higher court, the FFRF will still have yet another lawsuit to press against the current administration for clearly acting against the judge’s ruling, as if the President were somehow above the law. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

UPDATE: Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State on Fox