Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Flames of Feminism Rise Again

I'm not sure what recent event, if any, prompted this latest video rant by Thunderf00t but he comes out swinging at the Skepchicks and PZ Myers once again.

I've previously shared some of my thoughts about the feminism struggles in our movement, but this video really brought out a few issues that I feel deserve more discussion. 

Title: Why "Feminism" is poisoning Atheism

The video is essentially one long rant about how "Feminists" [sic] are distracting from the real issues by freaking out over every little non-issue and resorting to draconian countermeasures that are equivalent to those of creationists and opponents of free expression.

Ultimately, I disagree with Thuderf00t on all of that, but I can understand his perspective and why he has come to these conclusions.

Let us examine the typical exchange about feminism using the issue that kicked the discussion into full gear as an example: "elevatorgate."

Step 1: Creepy socially clueless guy makes Rebecca feel uncomfortable in an elevator.
Step 2: Rebecca reasonably suggests in a small aside on her vlog: "guys-don't do that"
Step 3: PZ Myers and others look at this and other incidents and suggest more strongly that this is a pervasive problem of culture that guys think it's okay:
"There is an odd attitude in our culture that it’s acceptable for men to proposition women in curious ways"
Step 4:  Richard Dawkins chimes in with his "Dear Muslima" comment snidely insinuating that problems like this are relatively minor compared to the problems women face around the world where genital mutilation are widely practiced. While it's quite likely that Dawkins was just trying to bring some global perspective into the conversation, he implied that because there are larger issues to focus on that we should pay these smaller concerns none at all. Worse yet, he implied that the women who were hurt aren't really being hurt at all and should stop whining about it. Neither of these claims is valid or even remotely acceptable.
Step 5: Team Watson and Team Dawkins form. Team Dawkins thinks Team Watson is overreacting, Team Watson takes the existence of Team Dawkins as evidence that there is a pervasive patriarchy in the skeptic movement and redoubles their efforts.
Step 6: Repeat

I've seen this pattern repeat several times now over the same issues. The cycle has become a self-sustaining yelling war where both sides take the other side's increasing volume as good reason to shout louder themselves.

There is a general culture of inequality and gender stereotypes that we need to be aware of. Our movement leadership is dominated by men, though thanks to proactive efforts by feminists to raise awareness on that front. What the Skepchick style feminists (I hate grouping into an us vs them mentality, but for clarity I will) have done because of this positive feedback loop of anger is skipped over the consciousness raising part of feminism and jumped straight to addressing the problem. Then they are shocked and surprised that so many people like thunderf00t don't see that there's a problem!

I identify as a feminist because I recognize these are issues we need to proactively combat. It would be wonderful if we could wave a magic wand and instantly remove all the subconscious biases and gender stereotypes, but that just won't happen. I truly think that feminists like PZ and Rebecca share this exact same goal, but because of the positive feedback loop they are fighting against the wrong enemy.

Stop treating people like thunderf00t as deniers or as people who are perpetuating a culture of anti-woman sexism. Instead, take the chance to educate them about the problems that they can help solve.

Feminists of all people should be aware of how perception of intent means much much more than actual intent when determining the reactions and opinions of others. Thunderf00t picks out a lot of good examples of feminists sending mixed signals or overreaching the message a bit. Take notice and see if we can improve our communication skills a bit.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Calvin and the Chipmunks

I love it when Christians can get into the spirit of things by poking fun at their own religion (or at least someone else's 'incorrect' interpretation of it). 

LutheranSatire made this charming little song about the Westboro Baptist church and their extreme Calvinist theology. Whether you think WBC are sincere, just trolling, or both I hope you enjoy the song.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Heartwarming Christmas Story

Just read this heartwarming story on the HuffPo.

Mall Santas typically aren't given much thought by anyone except the kids begging to see them. But one Santa literally made a gesture of kindness when he asked a little deaf boy if he had been good this year in american sign language.

This is the kind of human Christmas tales that bring a smile to my lips.

Big Dog Takes A Walk

If you haven't seen Boston Dynamic's Big Dog and its amazing dynamic balance abilities, check it out before you watch this video.

Big Dog (aka LS3) got a proper field test with proper soldiers in this video.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Obama Speaks up about Gun Control

The president issued this response to a petition on the We The People forum which received nearly 200,000 signatures this week calling for tighter gun control regulations. The petition was started the day of the Sandy Hook shooting.

In the video Obama starts by stating that the constitution and our national tradition enumerate an "individual right to bear arms." Now this claim can be and is disputed, but the argument is not conclusive either way.

Obama then stepped up and did something he hasn't done before: call for specific gun control legislation. The President has in the past said things like "we'll look into it" and other such politically convenient phrases concerning gun control after all the other mass murders during his first term. But this time, he has called for very specific legislation to be proposed by January: ban on assault weapons and extended ammo clips.

The president goes on:

I also tasked the Vice President with leading an effort to come up with a comprehensive set of serious proposals to keep our children safe. Including strengthening school safety, improving mental health care, and addressing a culture that too often glorifies guns and violence. I have asked for these proposals by January, and I will push for them early in the year. I will do everything in my power as President to advance these efforts. Because if there is even one thing we can do as a country to protect our children, we have a responsibility to try.
This is more like the "we'll look into it" Obama we've seen before: placating all interested parties, saying all options will be on the table, we'll see what happens next year.

I'm hopeful that now we have the president on record saying he wants an assault weapon/extended clip ban, he will be held to that position. But I also realize that he has set himself up once again to wriggle out of anything more than that "common sense" legislation, and in the past he's managed to duck even that when the Republicans blow any steam in his direction.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The End Is Nye

Via Facebook

Pope Says Atheists Deny Human Dignity

The Pope has taken to twitter again today and actually said something that caught my attention. Granted it's still mindless prattle, but in this instance it was slightly offensive prattle.

Well I for one do not believe in God, nor do I deny human dignity. Those who ascribe all of our great accomplishments, talents, and capacity for good to their invisible friends are the true enemies of human dignity.

12/21/12-Still Alive

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Machine Learning Haiku

Just finished my final final of the semester, and one of the extra credit points was to write a Machine Learning related Haiku. I'd never written a Haiku but I gave it a try.

So without further ado, I give you my first Haiku:
Support Vectors Rule
Separate Those Data Points
Maximum Margins

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

FRC Drops UPS for Dropping BSA

A press release from the Family Research Council (FRC) has announced that they will no longer be using UPS as their package distributor in response to UPS dropping service to the Boy Scouts.
Brown is doing right by you LGBT Community!

In my opinion, the UPS has been released from an association with two horrible organizations and all is well.

But as we've seen before, the FRC thinks that UPS is the one with the moral failings.
"The mission of the Boy Scouts is 'to instill values in young people' and 'prepare them to make ethical choices,' and the Scout's oath includes a pledge 'to do my duty to God' and keep himself 'morally straight.' It is entirely reasonable and not at all unusual for those passages to be interpreted as requiring abstinence from homosexual conduct. UPS should not try to impose the competing values of the sexual revolution upon the Boy Scouts."-Link
Wait...UPS is trying to impose their sexual values on the Boy Scouts? No no no no As they say, the MISSION of the Boy Scouts is "to instill values in young people." The UPS foundation's mission is "to leverage our business expertise and resources to help deliver innovating and sustainable solutions to address some of the world's most pressing challenges."

UPS is not pushing a moral agenda, that would be the Boy Scouts. UPS simply decided to not support them in that endeavor. The worst part is, FRC even acknowledges this and still gets it wrong.
"The Scouts, unlike UPS, are about instilling character and leadership into America's boys. UPS, in the name of 'tolerance,' can't tolerate such efforts."-Link
UPS, in the name of 'tolerance', has decided to not associate itself with a group that is very intolerant. To me, that sounds completely consistent, especially considering the preceding paragraph of the press release:
"The Scouts' policy is also a matter of security. After hundreds of cases of child sex abuse plagued the organization, the Boy Scouts tried to create a membership criterion that reduces the risk to Scouts, and that protects the rights of their parents to be the first to discuss topics like sexual orientation with their children."-Link
The insinuation that gays (or atheists for that matter) are more likely to RAPE CHILDREN is not only patently false, it is out and out bigotry. And this is not a unique quote. The FRC and BSA both have a long history of saying LGBT people are dangerous to children.
"As for their longstanding policy on homosexuality, the Boy Scouts are doing what every parent would want them to: putting children's safety first." -Link
But still, FRC calls UPS "intolerant," "anti-freedom," and "anti-religion."
"Ironically, in adopting a policy designed to exclude the Boy Scouts from funding. the UPS Foundation has acted directly against the value you ostensibly seek to promote—diversity. Indeed, in its supposed effort to act against one form of 'discrimination,’ the Foundation has itself engaged in another—by discriminating on the basis of religion against the many religious bodies which teach abstinence from homosexual conduct, and against all of the members of those bodies who adhere to those teachings. For example. this places the UPS Foundation in the position of discriminating against the largest religious body in the United States, the Roman Catholic Church: against the largest Protestant denomination in the country, the Southern Baptist Convention; and against the largest religious supporter of the Boy Scouts, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints."-Tony Perkins, President FRC
Right...the Catholics, the Baptists, and the Mormons are all being discriminated against when we say we don't like how they treat gay people and that we want nothing to do with them. This persecution complex has gone too far.

Pleasantly Surprised by Glenn Beck

I was amazed with how many good points Glenn Beck made. I happen to think Glenn is right about a lot of basic principles regarding the constitution, except when he gets to separation of church and state and Penn straightens him out pretty quick on that.

He starts out with a very odd diagram invoking the Nazis and Communists, business as usual, but then he seems to grow a brain somewhere between the chalkboard and the chair.

This is not an endorsement of Beck, far from it. It's just an admission that a broken watch is right twice a day. His principles aren't that bad when it comes to the constitution, he just thinks that we're a lot further from them as a country than we actually are.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Mike Huckabee is an Opportunistic Ghoul

I can't believe I actually voted for this guy for years ago.

I expected this from Eric Hovind, Bryan Fisher, Westboro Baptist, and random morons on facebook, but I must admit I was expecting that some people would remain above the fray and be the bigger person about this. I at least hoped they would have the decency to wait a day or so before pontificating about the efficacy of bulletproof prayer shields.

But no, Huckabee added his name to the growing list of opportunistic ideologues who have co-opted this tragedy in an attempt to make the separation of church and state a "one directional wall."

The Egg Came First, Get Over It.

I was recently reading an article by physicist Lawrence Krauss on his debate with William Lane Craig and the troubles he had. It's a good article and I encourage you to read it.

When he came to the cosmological argument the old idiom that I've heard or read so many times reared it's head again: which came first the chicken or the egg? I would have expected myself to be desensitized to such a common trope, but I stumbled over the phrase this time.

My immediate thought this time around was, don't we know the answer to that question? And indeed we do. Scientists have known for years that dinosaurs laid eggs millions of years before a subset of them eventually evolved into chickens. Eggs even predate the dinosaurs by millions of years. Case closed, can we pick a different phrase now to represent an unsolvable conundrum?

Then a wave of morbid curiousity swept over me and I wondered what Ken Ham had to say about all this, because clearly he cannot avail himself of the scientific answer as it requires acceptance of, if not evolution, the accepted geologic timescale.

Ask Google and yea shall receive. I give you the Answers in Genesis article entitled, appropriately enough, "Which Came First - The Chicken or the Egg?" I've highlighted the most interesting bits.
Some questions don’t ever seem to get resolved. Some matter, and others don’t. What about the age-old question of the chicken or the egg? Does the Bible give us a clue, and does it matter? 
As with other questions, worldview dictates your answer. Evolutionists assert that birds evolved from reptiles over millions of years, so the reptiles eventually laid the egg that hatched as a chicken. The egg came first. 
What do creationists believe? On Day Five of Creation Week, God created “every winged bird according to its kind” (Genesis 1:21). God created mature birds with the ability to reproduce. So the bird was first, ready to lay eggs. 
While we know that birds came first, that fails to address the specific question about domesticated chickens. Is it possible to determine the chicken’s ancestor that was created on Day Five? Classification research is a very young field, but chickens happen to be one of the creatures that creationists have investigated to identify the original parent kinds.1 
What they found is interesting. Analyzing all the relevant biblical words for chickens and birds, then studying which modern birds can mix (hybridize) with chickens, along with statistical analysis of similar physical traits, they found evidence that chickens belong to the potential created kind of the Galliformes order. 
These birds appear to have been among the clean animals on the Ark. As they diversified and filled the earth after the Flood, many different species appeared. Some of these were preserved in post-Flood sediments. The earliest fossils look like pheasants and similar wild birds. It’s possible that it was not until later that the modern species of domesticated chickens (Gallus domesticus) appeared. 
The Creator placed designs for immense diversity within the genetics of the original kinds. As this diversity was passed from parent to offspring, most likely a non-chicken bird eventually laid an egg containing a chicken. So, technically speaking, it’s very likely that the Gallus domesticus egg came first. 
There is so much here to talk about, so I'll just go in order.

Worldview certainly dictates your answer, insofar as you worldview demands unquestioning obedience to authority and permits dismissal of evidence. But having a fixed answer does not guarantee accuracy. Evolutionists don't "assert" that birds evolved from dinosaurs, they show that it is the case using evidence and  reason.  

This is a textbook example of projection, as in the next paragraph the creationist answer is asserted via the Bible as usual. "God created mature birds with the ability to reproduce. So the bird was first, ready to lay eggs." That's it, full stop. No more reason is given other than one verse in an ancient book. 

And in the very next sentence the creationist has moved from assertion to certain knowledge. "While we know that birds came first, that fails to address the specific question about domesticated chickens."

Ironically, the rest of the article is a quasi-evolutionary explanation of how the modern chicken species evolved (they don't use the word but that's what they are in fact saying) from the first of the Galliformes kind.

They then proceed to explain away the fact that they are describing a sort of hyperspeed 6000 year long evolutionary process by adding the claim that God included the recipes for all those derivative species in the original coding. This is a level of cognitive dissonance that must require herculean effort to maintain.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Why Eric Hovind has become a Presuppositionalist

If you're not familiar with Eric Hovind, infamous son of Kent Hovind (aka. Dr. Dino, aka Inmate 06452-017), I'm sorry for introducing him to you.

Eric used to peddle straight up creationist nonsense that was a wonder to behold. Take this from his series "Creation Minute" explaining why the Colorado river would have had to flow uphill to carve the grand canyon.

But since then, he has teamed up with presuppositionalist and "virtuously circular argument" making preacher Sye Ten Brugencate. Sye runs a little website called (which as I just checked today it looks like he let his domain registration expire, odd).

How and why did Eric go from at least trying to address the evidence and arguments to trying to use philosophy to justify ignoring it outright? Well today I came across this transitional form where Hovind explains exactly why he gave up on arguing the evidence: "it doesn't work."

"Conversion Therapy" on Way of the Mister

Mr. Deity is one of the best webshows out there about religion. Brian Dalton takes what he calls "oh, well" moments from apologists and common believers and turns them into comedy gold. The best part is that can be enjoyed most by those who don't take their religion too seriously.

This is a great episode from the spinoff series "Way of the Mister," where they use brilliant satire to take on so called pray the gay away camps.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Review of "The Great Decision"

Just finished another audiobook, this time The Great Decision by Cliff Sloan and David McKean.

This steps outside the bounds of my usual reading fare in that it is a historical narrative of sorts. It tells the fascinating story of the Marbury v. Madison supreme court decision, a landmark case that redefined the Supreme Court and established its place as a co-equal member of the new government.

The case came about after the hotly contested Adams/Jefferson election in 1800. The Democratic-Republicans and the Federalists were dueling it out (quite literally in some cases) for the structure of the government. When Adams lost, all hope for the Federalist cause seemed lost. But Adams quickly hatched a plan to attempt to preserve power by taking control of the Judiciary.

The Judiciary Act of 1801 had just been passed, and that bill created dozens of vacancies for justices of the peace and circuit judges. In a frenzy of activity, Adams quickly appointed 16 Federalist circuit judges and 42 Federalist justices before Jefferson could assume the office in March. These justices, henceforth known as the midnight judges for the late hour of their appointment, included William Marbury from whom the case got its name.

The task of making appointments was not complete when Jefferson arrived on March 4th, and he discovered to his delight that some of the commission had not been delivered by the previous Secretary of State and current Supreme Court John Marshall.

Jefferson reportedly instructed the new Secretary of State, James Madison, to not deliver the commissions, denying judges like Marbury their appointed positions. Marbury made a challenge to the supreme court arguing that once the commission had been created, the appointment had been made in full so the Secretary had no power to withhold the commissions.

This case was critical to American history because it established the Supreme Court, previously viewed as a joke without even a proper home in the new capital, as a coequal branch of government with the power to declare actions law unconstitutional. It laid the framework for the separation of powers we have today.

The book itself was less compelling than the story it told and at times could be a little dry. But more interesting than the case itself and why I recommend reading it was the juicy asides about the personal lives and backbiting of the founding fathers.

Today we glorify the founding fathers as ahead of their time: visionaries with unprecedented intellect. While the documents they created founded a great nation, the men behind the story were just as apish as any politician today.

A popular narrative today from both sides of the aisle is a sort of appeal to the good old days of the founding fathers. We cannot imagine that the petty partisan bickering that dominate our politics today could have possibly afflicted the founding fathers. But in reality, the parallels between the two worlds go much further than I had realized. Some of the anti-Republican rhetoric of 1800 made Glenn Beck seem charitable.

If for no other reason than developing a less saintly (and hence more realistic) view of the founders, I recommend giving The Great Decision a listen.

Worst thing a Christian could Say? No, I don't think so.

As predicted, the list of horrible comments in response to the Connecticut shooting keeps growing. Friendly Atheist shared this one and said it was the worst thing a Christian could say following the tragedy.

The problem is, I can think of a lot worse things that they could say, as horrible as this comment is. I don't see any relevant difference between this comment about the Connecticut shooting and the justifications that apologists like Doug Wilson or William Lane Craig give for the slaughter of the Canaanite children in the OT: "They're with Jesus now, so they were the recipients of an 'infinite good.'"

Actually I can think of one difference, the Canaanite genocides probably never happened.

The comment thread got pretty heated, but he doubled down on his statement a few comments later:


I want to draw attention to two bits of this: Carole's comment that it "doesn't matter if they were Christians or not, because they were innocent children which means they automatically have a place in Heaven." How is this any different from Mormons retroactively baptizing dead Jews? Doesn't matter what you were in life, you have to be Christian in the afterlife.

And finally, John says "they will finally understand how this is the BEST Christmas for them, just as it will be the BEST for us when we get to heaven." Words cannot express.

Guest Post: Let's Look at the Facts

Written By Josh Nankivel

Very sad about the tragedy today. Looking at everything on Facebook and the web, I started to get drawn in.

I started doing it too. I am outraged just like everyone else.
Pontificating on the topic as if my perspective must be the correct one.

Then I realized something.

It doesn't matter what I think the right policy is. It doesn't matter what feels right to me, or you, or anyone else.

There's RESEARCH out there! There's more research that can be done!
Perhaps the ACTION we must take now is to learn more, empirically, about what works to prevent tragedies like this.

I realized today that I am woefully uneducated about what science has learned on this topic.

And I think the vast majority of you reading this fall into this category right alongside me.

In fact, it's pretty clear the majority of people who voiced an opinion about gun control, one way or another, were just falling back on their prior biases - and if I were a betting man, I'd put my money down that the vast majority of us haven't done enough real scholarly research on this topic to support our opinions. (Note that's US, meaning me too.)

So bring up google scholar, pubmed, or any of the good journals available online. Most of the full papers are behind pay walls unfortunately - but even reading the abstracts can be enlightening. If you spend 30 minutes researching this way you will get a sense for where the evidence is pointing. NEVER rely on one study for your opinion - independent replication is REQUIRED among other things regarding good protocol in the studies themselves in order to say you know something.

And you know what? It's rather therapeutic as well - seeking true understanding in the face of a tragedy helps deal with it. It's actually the first step in really DOING something about it. The more you know about science, the more you can convince others about what's true. The more we as parents can understand what we can do directly to prevent

This is a COMPLICATED issue. After doing this research, it's clear to me that these single-solution opinions being spouted are myopic and don't come close to the truth of WHY and what we can do. (It's because of no gun control! - It's because they took God out of schools! - It's because of big pharma over-medicating kids!)

From the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: "Premeditated Mass Shootings in Schools: Threat Assessment" by Twemlow, et al. (Link)

What if we did a better job, in a systematic way of educating children, parents, educators, and other school staff about the following and how to handle them?

6 Major Risk Factors Include: (from the paper)

  1. Availability of guns - 2/3 took the guns from their own home or that of a relative
  2. Bullying - 2/3 of cases involved clear and obvious bullying of the shooter by social groups or individuals
  3. Concern expressed by adults or peers - more than 1/2 of cases involved explicitly expressed concern about the shooter's behavior prior to the incident
  4. Mimicry of media figures - shooter may behave as a mimic of a prominent media figure or character in concerning ways
  5. Change in emotions and interests - sharp changes in behavior and narrowed focus and interested precede many incidents
  6. Families low in emotional closeness and knowledge of adolescent’s life 
"Most shooters were from intact families who appeared to lack emotional closeness and intimacy. The shooters often seemed to have reversed the roles within their families; parents seemed afraid of their children and unwilling to set reasonable limits and boundaries. These parents seemed disinterested in their children’s behavior at school, as if the school was burdening the parents with reports of their children’s problems. The shooters appeared to have demanded (and received) inordinate amounts of privacy within their families. When the parents
were confronted with their child’s behavior, they tended to minimize it and expressed tolerance for extreme behavior in their child. Essentially, many shooters were successful at manipulating their parents into defending extreme behaviors" 
"The larger social and environmental issues involved in school shootings include factors such as easy access to violent and hateladen media, weaponry, and information on strategies for terrorist attacks. Less frequently noted is the school’s response to fixed patterns of teasing, ostracism, and bullying among various groups in the school. A school climate that tolerates physical and relational aggression, especially by popular groups such as athletes or economic elites, is at high risk for violence (Twemlow, 2000)."
"In more than three quarters of the incidents, attackers preplanned the murders, often months before the attack; revenge was a motive for half of the attackers. Three quarters of the children held a grievance communicated to peers before the attack, but in only 2 of the 37 cases was the threat communicated to an adult. In more than half the cases, the attacker told more than one individual, and in one instance at least 24 friends and classmates were told; some were actually warned not to go to school on the day of the proposed killings."
"More than three quarters of the children had previously threatened to kill themselves or made suicide attempts, and more than half had a history of depression or feelings of desperation. In more than three quarters of the instances there was a loss of status in a significant relationship, a personal failure, or a jilting by a girlfriend."

Suicide by mass murder: Masculinity, aggrieved entitlement, and rampage school shootings Link

Understanding Mass School Shootings: Links between Personhood and Power in the Competitive School Environment Link

Australia’s 1996 gun law reforms: faster falls in firearm deaths, firearm suicides, and a decade without mass shootings Link

Firearm related deaths: the impact of regulatory reform Link

The Impact of Right-to-Carry Concealed Firearm Laws on Mass Public Shootings Link

The Impact of “Shall-Issue” Concealed Handgun Laws on Violent Crime Rates Evidence From Panel Data for Large Urban Cities Link

Premeditated Mass Shootings in Schools: Threat Assessment Link

Friday, December 14, 2012

Can't your nonsense wait even 24 hours for mourning?

In case you haven't heard already, there's been a horrific shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut. Not five hours after the story broke, the crazies have already sprung onto the scene to point blame at  secularists like me.

First there was Eric Hovind's tweet:

And then there was Bryan Fisher's opinion that God didn't prevent the tragedy because "God is not going to go where he is not wanted."

I'm sure there will be many more to follow but these happened so fast after the tragedy that they warrant special scorn.

No, taking school sponsored prayer out of the classroom in accordance with the constitution did NOT cause this shooting. No, I am not responsible for the shooting because I want everyone to be treated equally. And no, putting prayer back in will not magically prevent these tragedies from happening again, Mr. Fisher.

I don't get offended easily, but when someone blames me and mine for causing something like this in a brain exploding use of a nonsequitur and then asking if I'm HAPPY ABOUT IT? Fuck you Eric Hovind, and the Dino you rode in on.

Hooked: Chapter 3 "The Developing Brain and Sex"

And here we go for another chapter of Hooked. Fortunately, chapter 3 will not require the three part shake down the previous chapter did.

Having established (to their satisfaction, not mine) their claims about the effects of neurotransmitters in relationships and the potential harms involved, the authors move on to expound upon the dangers of puppy love.

Thankfully, over 90% of the information they provide on the subject is quite interesting and true. Better yet, they cite many reputable sources in support: Nature Neuroscience, Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health, Journal of Neurophysiology, among others. They provide a brief sketch of mirror neurons, the development process of the prefrontal cortex, our needs as members of a social species, fMRI studies, PET scans, and other aspects of teen psychology that are all relatively non-controversial and by my estimation kosher with reality.While the authors have demonstrated in the past that they aren't above misrepresenting reputable sources I have no reason to doubt the validity of these claims.

Were it not for the other 10%, I could simply conclude here. But alas, they kept going.

This chapter highlights Hooked's method of assigning it copious amount of footnotes very well, so I feel obliged to expand on the subject. Chapter 3 is 20 pages long in very large print, and it contains 54 footnotes. As I mentioned above, a good number of them come from reputable sources like Nature. But these reputable sources are often used to support statements that are either so non-controversial as to be common knowledge or background knowledge that does not directly support the argument.

It also clearly demonstrates that unlike creationist authors, for example, they appear perfectly aware of and literate in the best scientific journals available. So when they step off the peer reviewed reservation into bizzaro world literature in an effort to support their claims, the contrast stands out like a watch in the desert.

For example, here is a passage where Nature Neuroscience was cited:
"The part of the brain that controls the ability to make fully mature judgment decisions is not physically mature until an individual reaches his mid-twenties. In other words, the part of a brain that is responsible for complex assessments about future consequences and responsibility is still growing throughout the teen years and into the mid-twenties." -Hooked pg 51
Why yes, the brain does continue to develop as you grow up. Absolutely true, though fairly common knowledge now. Contrast the above passage with the following claim, which cites the same journal:
"While young people can make some good judgment calls for themselves, it is impossible for them to make fully mature judgment decisions until their mid-twenties, when their brains are finally mature.[Neuroscience footnote here]
One of the best and most understandable evidences of this observation is that car rental companies will not rent their cars to a person under the age of twenty-five unless special arrangements have been made or a higher rate is charged. The reason given by these companies is that the risk of damage and destruction of their property is excessive when driven by younger drivers, regardless of education or employment." 
-Hooked pg 51-2. Emphasis added
While it is true that the brain is not physically mature until late twenties, it is another matter altogether to claim it is impossible to make fully mature judgment decisions before then.  More difficult? Sure. Less likely? Certainly, but impossible? Hooked has developed the bad habit of taking well accepted data and drawing exaggerated or oversimplified conclusions.

Also note how suddenly the quality of evidence shifts from Nature to rent-a-car companies. Really? That was the best evidence you could think of? The fact that younger drivers are less practiced drivers doesn't have anything to do with higher insurance rates? Okay...

Another form of odd footnoting is the demographic data that doesn't appear to be related to the argument or support it. Take this passage:
"The point here is that if young people are not guided by parents, mentors, and other caring adults, but make their own decisions based on these less than optimal types of bonding, they often make poor decisions." - Hooked pg. 54
The citation given for this is high school dropout rate census data tabulated by race and age. How does that have any bearing on the claim that chemical bonding due to sex leads to poor decision making? Again, we have a truly reputable source (the US Census Bureau) being cited where it appears to have no bearing on the passage.

But finally, as we've seen in previous chapters, when the authors need direct support for their more questionable claims they abandon peer review altogether and turn to popular writings or studies from their own research group or groups with like ideologies. Some old friends return in this chapter, including The Female Brain, the Heritage Foundation, and the Institute for American Values, along with some newcomers like Touchstone magazine.

The Touchstone article is entitled "Designed for Sex: What We Lose When We Forget What Sex Is For" and it hurtles the naturalistic fallacy as though it were a crick. Here's just a clipping. Notice anything familiar?
Sex is like applying adhesive tape; promiscuity is like ripping the tape off again. If you rip it off, rip it off, rip it off, eventually the tape can’t stick anymore. ... 
Now, in a roundabout sort of way, I’ve just introduced you to the concept of natural law. Although the natural-law tradition is unfamiliar to most people today, it has been the main axis of Western ethical thought for 23 centuries, and in fact it is experiencing a renaissance. 
The hinge concept is design. I said that we’re not designed for hooking up, that we’re designed for our bodies and hearts to work together. We human beings really do have a design, and I mean that literally—not just a biological design, but an emotional, intellectual, and spiritual design. The human design is the meaning of the ancient expression “human nature.” Some ways of living comport with our design. Others don’t. - Touchstone Article
Hooked uses this article as a citation for the claim that having sex outside of marriage is "out of sync with human nature." Not only is this the naturalistic fallacy, it is question begging because they've defined "true" human nature to be only sex inside of marriage (which is hardly the natural state of human sexuality anyways). The assertion of natural law being the work of purposeful intelligent design (and therefore morally relevant I guess?) is popping up with increasing frequency.

Apart from frequently repeating their claims about oxytocin and sex being like cocaine, there is not much in the way of pseudoscience in this chapter. However, they do offer up more examples of how narrow their view of human sexuality is.
"It may sound blunt, but if we try to eliminate this connectedness from sex, we remove the uniquely human aspect of it, and the sexual act becomes nothing more than raw animal behavior. However, when this connectedness is allowed to mature in the context of a lifelong committed relationship, sex is a wonderful, sustaining expression of love." - Hooked, pg 62
So apparently if you're not married, sex cannot be based in love. It's just animal sex then.
 "Another negative consequence is that as young people experience these sexual relationships it affects their brains, molding them not only to damage their attachment ability but to become desensitized to the risk of short-term sexual relationships, eventually believing that this behavior is harmless and acceptable..." - Hooked, pg 56
Maybe they come to that conclusion because it is harmless and acceptable? Sure sex involves risk but those risks don't go away when you get married.
"The healthy progression of relationship strengthens the brain cell connections associated with 'attachment' of one person to another, helping to ensure the permanence of the relationship that finds its healthiest expression with sexual consummation in marriage." - Hooked, pg 56
In this case, they are using "healthiest" not as a medical term but as a moral supposition. They don't cite psychology journals for this claim, but a pop culture book called Social Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. I won't comment on it's quality because I haven't read it, but it's striking that when they start making health claims they leave the journals of health and science behind.
"Statistics show that if young people begin having sex when they are sixteen years old, more than 44% of them will have had five or more sexual partners by the time they are in their twenties. If they are older than twenty when they initiate sex, only 15 percent will have had more than five sexual partners, while just over 50 percent will have committed sexually to only one partner." - Hooked, pg 65
Sounds like fun! But no, Hooked frames having multiple partners as a destructive pattern of behavior that must be avoided. It's not a unique expression of one's sexuality, it's a bad decision that they will live to regret. And if they are continually told that it's a bad decision and called sluts and shamed for being open with their sexuality, that will become a self fulfilling prophecy.
"Sex practiced inappropriately can both control and damage the relationship. As on writer puts it, a nonmarital 'relationship is only as old as it is nonsexual. The relationship stops growing once it becomes sexual, because the erotic aspect will become the primary focus of [the couple's] time together.'" ... On the other hand, in a relationship of true love and long-term commitment, sex takes its appropriate place-not at the center of the relationship, but as one of the natural outcomes of the healthy connectedness of two people. Sex will then be a catalyst to the full, healthy, long-term committed relationship it strengthens." - Hooked, pg 69
They always contrast long-term monogamy or any other form of sexual relationship outside of marriage as a distinct category from Love (which they call "the real thing"). Marriage is not some magical entity that suddenly transmogrifies sex from an exclusively destructive force into love, just as age 25 doesn't magically and instantly make someone a mature human being able to make their own decisions.

By framing sex this way and asserting time and time again that sex outside of marriage is bad, harmful, and not even satisfying the authors seem to be making their point by percussion not persuasion. The element of self fulfilling prophecy here cannot be overstated. Teach children from birth until "two or three years after college" (as they recommend) that sex is something to be guilty about and they will grow up to believe it.

But I'm sorry, it's simply not true. Sex is not something to be ashamed of, to shy away from, to hide under a bushel. It is an important and central aspect of our humanity. For all the praise the authors give to what is natural, they seem to hold our natural tendencies in sexuality to be abhorrent.

And therein lies the danger of this book. They select the natural elements of our biology that agree with their preconceptions about sexuality, cite reputable scholarship to demonstrate that it is in fact natural, and then proceed to argue that it was designed that way to guide use towards the behavior of which they approve. But when our natural inclinations stray from the straight (I use the term advisedly) and narrow path as defined by their beliefs, then it's an unfortunate side effect and "not in sync" with the designer's purpose driven life.

This gives them an appearance of scholarly objectivity when in reality they have preselected the behaviors they wish to demonize. Fortunately, they are so transparent in their efforts that it is relatively easy for us to sort out the facts from the ideology.

Previous: Chapter 2: Meet the Brain (Part 3: Vasopressin)
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Neil deGrasse Tyson Makes the Case for Nasa

Back in March Dr. Tyson testified before the Senate Science Committee about the import of continuing to fund NASA. This is the full video of his testimony. I know a lot of you are fans of Dr. Tyson, so I think you'll enjoy this.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

I'll be Drinking White Wine in the Snow

In case you've been hiding under a rock since July, it's Christmas season which means constant Christmas music wherever you go.

While I violently oppose the playing of Christmas music before Thanksgiving, I actually like a lot of the traditional Christmas songs, religious or not. Handel's Hallelujah Chorus is a masterpiece whatever your beliefs. But now when the solstice approaches I'm more likely to turn on "White Wine in the Sun" by Tim Minchin. It still makes me cry every time I listen, including as I write this.

Just wanted to share the sentiment and celebrate the season in my own way.

Mark Twain on Mormons

Currently I'm taking a break from my usual fare of non-fiction science type books to delve into Mark Twain. Roughing It is a very entertaining book that solidified Samuel Clement's reputation has America's favorite author.

I'm scarcely halfway through, but I wanted to share one of my favorite chapters wherein Mark Twain describes his experiences with the Mormons. I would not presume to improve upon Twain so I leave it unabridged for your enjoyment. But first a little excerpt on Mormon women and polygamy from Chapter 14. Enjoy!

Our stay in Salt Lake City amounted to only two days, and therefore we had no time to make the customary inquisition into the workings of polygamy and get up the usual statistics and deductions preparatory to calling the attention of the nation at large once more to the matter. 
I had the will to do it. With the gushing self-sufficiency of youth I was feverish to plunge in headlong and achieve a great reform here--until I saw the Mormon women. Then I was touched. My heart was wiser than my head. It warmed toward these poor, ungainly and pathetically "homely" creatures, and as I turned to hide the generous moisture in my eyes, I said, "No--the man that marries one of them has done an act of Christian charity which entitles him to the kindly applause of mankind, not their harsh censure--and the man that marries sixty of them has done a deed of open-handed generosity so sublime that the nations should stand uncovered in his presence and worship in silence."

Now for the full chapter:

Chapter 16 from "Roughing It" by Mark Twain

All men have heard of the Mormon Bible, but few except the "elect" have seen it, or, at least, taken the trouble to read it. I brought away a copy from Salt Lake. The book is a curiosity to me, it is such a pretentious affair, and yet so "slow," so sleepy; such an insipid mess of inspiration. It is chloroform in print. If Joseph Smith composed this book, the act was a miracle--keeping awake while he did it was, at any rate. If he, according to tradition, merely translated it from certain ancient and mysteriously-engraved plates of copper, which he declares he found under a stone, in an out-of-the-way locality, the work of translating was equally a miracle, for the same reason.

The book seems to be merely a prosy detail of imaginary history, with the Old Testament for a model; followed by a tedious plagiarism of the New Testament. The author labored to give his words and phrases the quaint, old-fashioned sound and structure of our King James's translation of the Scriptures; and the result is a mongrel--half modern glibness, and half ancient simplicity and gravity. The latter is awkward and constrained; the former natural, but grotesque by the contrast. Whenever he found his speech growing too modern--which was about every sentence or two--he ladled in a few such Scriptural phrases as "exceeding sore," "and it came to pass," etc., and made things satisfactory again. "And it came to pass" was his pet. If he had left that out, his Bible would have been only a pamphlet.

The title-page reads as follows:
Wherefore it is an abridgment of the record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites; written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the House of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile; written by way of commandment, and also by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation. Written and sealed up, and hid up unto the Lord, that they might not be destroyed; to come forth by the gift and power of God unto the interpretation thereof; sealed by the hand of Moroni, and hid up unto the Lord, to come forth in due time by the way of Gentile; the interpretation thereof by the gift of God. An abridgment taken from the Book of Ether also; which is a record of the people of Jared; who were scattered at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people when they were building a tower to get to Heaven.
 "Hid up" is good. And so is "wherefore"--though why "wherefore"? Any other word would have answered as well--though--in truth it would not have sounded so Scriptural.
Next comes:
Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people unto whom this work shall come, that we, through the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the plates which contain this record, which is a record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites, their brethren, and also of the people of Jared, who came from the tower of which hath been spoken; and we also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for His voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true. And we also testify that we have seen the engravings which are upon the plates; and they have been shown unto us by the power of God, and not of man. And we declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon; and we know that it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, that we beheld and bear record that these things are true; and it is marvellous in our eyes; nevertheless the voice of the Lord commanded us that we should bear record of it; wherefore, to be obedient unto the commandments of God, we bear testimony of these things. And we know that if we are faithful in Christ, we shall rid our garments of the blood of all men, and be found spotless before the judgment-seat of Christ, and shall dwell with Him eternally in the heavens. And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen.

Some people have to have a world of evidence before they can come anywhere in the neighborhood of believing anything; but for me, when a man tells me that he has "seen the engravings which are upon the plates," and not only that, but an angel was there at the time, and saw him see them, and probably took his receipt for it, I am very far on the road to conviction, no matter whether I ever heard of that man before or not, and even if I do not know the name of the angel, or his nationality either.

Next is this:
AND ALSO THE TESTIMONY OF EIGHT WITNESSES. Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people unto whom this work shall come, that Joseph Smith, Jr., the translator of this work, has shown unto us the plates of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves as the said Smith has translated, we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship. And this we bear record with words of soberness, that the said Smith has shown unto us, for we have seen and hefted, and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken. And we give our names unto the world, to witness unto the world that which we have seen; and we lie not, God bearing witness of it.
And when I am far on the road to conviction, and eight men, be they grammatical or otherwise, come forward and tell me that they have seen the plates too; and not only seen those plates but "hefted" them, I am convinced. I could not feel more satisfied and at rest if the entire Whitmer family had testified.

The Mormon Bible consists of fifteen "books"--being the books of Jacob, Enos, Jarom, Omni, Mosiah, Zeniff, Alma, Helaman, Ether, Moroni, two "books" of Mormon, and three of Nephi.
In the first book of Nephi is a plagiarism of the Old Testament, which gives an account of the exodus from Jerusalem of the "children of Lehi"; and it goes on to tell of their wanderings in the wilderness, during eight years, and their supernatural protection by one of their number, a party by the name of Nephi. They finally reached the land of "Bountiful," and camped by the sea. After they had remained there "for the space of many days"--which is more Scriptural than definite--Nephi was commanded from on high to build a ship wherein to "carry the people across the waters." He travestied Noah's ark--but he obeyed orders in the matter of the plan. He finished the ship in a single day, while his brethren stood by and made fun of it--and of him, too--"saying, our brother is a fool, for he thinketh that he can build a ship." They did not wait for the timbers to dry, but the whole tribe or nation sailed the next day. Then a bit of genuine nature cropped out, and is revealed by outspoken Nephi with Scriptural frankness--they all got on a spree! They, "and also their wives, began to make themselves merry, insomuch that they began to dance, and to sing, and to speak with much rudeness; yea, they were lifted up unto exceeding rudeness."

Nephi tried to stop these scandalous proceedings; but they tied him neck and heels, and went on with their lark. But observe how Nephi the prophet circumvented them by the aid of the invisible powers:
And it came to pass that after they had bound me, insomuch that I could not move, the compass, which had been prepared of the Lord, did cease to work; wherefore, they knew not whither they should steer the ship, insomuch that there arose a great storm, yea, a great and terrible tempest, and we were driven back upon the waters for the space of three days; and they began to be frightened exceedingly, lest they should be drowned in the sea; nevertheless they did not loose me. And on the fourth day, which we had been driven back, the tempest began to be exceeding sore. And it came to pass that we were about to be swallowed up in the depths of the sea.
Then they untied him.
And it came to pass after they had loosed me, behold, I took the compass, and it did work whither I desired it. And it came to pass that I prayed unto the Lord; and after I had prayed, the winds did cease, and the storm did cease, and there was a great calm.
Equipped with their compass, these ancients appear to have had the advantage of Noah.
Their voyage was toward a "promised land"--the only name they give it. They reached it in safety.
Polygamy is a recent feature in the Mormon religion, and was added by Brigham Young after Joseph Smith's death. Before that, it was regarded as an "abomination." This verse from the Mormon Bible occurs in Chapter II. of the book of Jacob:
For behold, thus saith the Lord, this people begin to wax in iniquity; they understand not the Scriptures; for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning David, and Solomon his son. Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord; wherefore, thus saith the Lord, I have led this people forth out of the land of Jerusalem, by the power of mine arm, that I might raise up unto me a righteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph. Wherefore, I the Lord God, will no suffer that this people shall do like unto them of old.
However, the project failed--or at least the modern Mormon end of it--for Brigham "suffers" it. This verse is from the same chapter:
Behold, the Lamanites your brethren, whom ye hate, because of their filthiness and the cursings which hath come upon their skins, are more righteous than you; for they have not forgotten the commandment of the Lord, which was given unto our fathers, that they should have, save it were one wife; and concubines they should have none.
The following verse (from Chapter IX. of the Book of Nephi) appears to contain information not familiar to everybody:
And now it came to pass that when Jesus had ascended into heaven, the multitude did disperse, and every man did take his wife and his children, and did return to his own home.
And it came to pass that on the morrow, when the multitude was gathered together, behold, Nephi and his brother whom he had raised from the dead, whose name was Timothy, and also his son, whose name was Jonas, and also Mathoni, and Mathonihah, his brother, and Kumen, and Kumenenhi, and Jeremiah, and Shemnon, and Jonas, and Zedekiah, and Isaiah; now these were the names of the disciples whom Jesus had chosen.
In order that the reader may observe how much more grandeur and picturesqueness (as seen by these Mormon twelve) accompanied on of the tenderest episodes in the life of our Saviour than other eyes seem to have been aware of, I quote the following from the same "book"--Nephi:
And it came to pass that Jesus spake unto them, and bade them arise. And they arose from the earth, and He said unto them, Blessed are ye because of your faith. And now behold, My joy is full. And when He had said these words, He wept, and the multitude bear record of it, and He took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them. And when He had done this He wept again, and He spake unto the multitude, and saith unto them, Behold your little ones. And as they looked to behold, they cast their eyes toward heaven, and they saw the heavens open, and they saw angels descending out of heaven as it were, in the midst of fire; and they came down and encircled those little ones about, and they were encircled about with fire; and the angels did minister unto them, and the multitude did see and hear and bear record; and they know that their record is true, for they all of them did see and hear, every man for himself; and they were in number about two thousand and five hundred souls; and they did consist of men, women, and children.
And what else would they be likely to consist of?
The Book of Ether is an incomprehensible medley of if "history," much of it relating to battles and sieges among peoples whom the reader has possibly never heard of; and who inhabited a country which is not set down in the geography. These was a King with the remarkable name of Coriantumr, and he warred with Shared, and Lib, and Shiz, and others, in the "plains of Heshlon"; and the "valley of Gilgal"; and the "wilderness of Akish"; and the "land of Moran"; and the "plains of Agosh"; and "Ogath," and "Ramah," and the "land of Corihor," and the "hill Comnor," by "the waters of Ripliancum," etc., etc., etc. "And it came to pass," after a deal of fighting, that Coriantumr, upon making calculation of his losses, found that "there had been slain two millions of mighty men, and also their wives and their children"--say 5,000,000 or 6,000,000 in all--"and he began to sorrow in his heart." Unquestionably it was time. So he wrote to Shiz, asking a cessation of hostilities, and offering to give up his kingdom to save his people. Shiz declined, except upon condition that Coriantumr would come and let him cut his head off first--a thing which Coriantumr would not do. Then there was more fighting for a season; then four years were devoted to gathering the forces for a final struggle--after which ensued a battle, which, I take it, is the most remarkable set forth in history,--except, perhaps, that of the Kilkenny cats, which it resembles in some respects. This is the account of the gathering and the battle:
7. And it came to pass that they did gather together all the people, upon all the face of the land, who had not been slain, save it was Ether. And it came to pass that Ether did behold all the doings of the people; and he beheld that the people who were for Coriantumr, were gathered together to the army of Coriantumr; and the people who were for Shiz, were gathered together to the army of Shiz; wherefore they were for the space of four years gathering together the people, that they might get all who were upon the face of the land, and that they might receive all the strength which it was possible that they could receive. And it came to pass that when they were all gathered together, every one to the army which he would, with their wives and their children; both men, women, and children being armed with weapons of war, having shields, and breast-plates, and head-plates, and being clothed after the manner of war, they did march forth one against another, to battle; and they fought all that day, and conquered not. And it came to pass that when it was night they were weary, and retired to their camps; and after they had retired to their camps, they took up a howling and a lamentation for the loss of the slain of their people; and so great were their cries, their howlings and lamentations, that it did rend the air exceedingly. And it came to pass that on the morrow they did go again to battle, and great and terrible was that day; nevertheless they conquered not, and when the night came again, they did rend the air with their cries, and their howlings, and their mournings, for the loss of the slain of their people.
8. And it came to pass that Coriantumr wrote again an epistle unto Shiz, desiring that he would not come again to battle, but that he would take the kingdom, and spare the lives of the people. But behold, the Spirit of the Lord had ceased striving with them, and Satan had full power over the hearts of the people, for they were given up unto the hardness of their hearts, and the blindness of their minds that they might be destroyed; wherefore they went again to battle. And it came to pass that they fought all that day, and when the night came they slept upon their swords; and on the morrow they fought even until the night came; and when the night came they were drunken with anger, even as a man who is drunken with wine; and they slept again upon their swords; and on the morrow they fought again; and when the night came they had all fallen by the sword save it were fifty and two of the people of Coriantumr, and sixty and nine of the people of Shiz. And it came to pass that they slept upon their swords that night, and on the morrow they fought again, and they contended in their mights with their swords, and with their shields, all that day; and when the night came there were thirty and two of the people of Shiz, and twenty and seven of the people of Coriantumr.
9. And it came to pass that they ate and slept, and prepared for death on the morrow. And they were large and mighty men, as to the strength of men. And it came to pass that they fought for the space of three hours, and they fainted with the loss of blood. And it came to pass that when the men of Coriantumr had received sufficient strength, that they could walk, they were about to flee for their lives, but behold, Shiz arose, and also his men, and he swore in his wrath that he would slay Coriantumr, or he would perish by the sword: wherefore he did pursue them, and on the morrow he did overtake them; and they fought again with the sword. And it came to pass that when they had all fallen by the sword, save it were Coriantumr and Shiz, behold Shiz had fainted with loss of blood. And it came to pass that when Coriantumr had leaned upon his sword, that he rested a little, he smote off the head of Shiz. And it came to pass that after he had smote off the head of Shiz, that Shiz raised upon his hands and fell; and after that he had struggled for breath, he died. And it came to pass that Coriantumr fell to the earth, and became as if he had no life. And the Lord spake unto Ether, and said unto him, go forth. And he went forth, and beheld that the words of the Lord had all been fulfilled; and he finished his record; and the hundredth part I have not written.
It seems a pity he did not finish, for after all his dreary former chapters of commonplace, he stopped just as he was in danger of becoming interesting.
The Mormon Bible is rather stupid and tiresome to read, but there is nothing vicious in its teachings. Its code of morals is unobjectionable- -it is "smouched" [Milton] from the New Testament and no credit given.

The Blog Fodder has Arrived!

Apparently ordering a study Bible, as I did last year, gets you a copy of an evangelical Christian book catalog Christmas edition. I promptly went through and circled all the ones that looked interesting.

So last week I went on a bit of an amazon shopping spree and bought about $80 worth of books, all used to get the most book for my buck. I plan to read and review all of these in the future, but if you have one that you would like to see me do over next please leave a comment.

A few of these things is not like the others ;)

I swear I'll finish Hooked soon.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Robockey 2012

Annually at the University of Pennsylvania the Mechatronics course does Robockey has a final project. The rules are simple, 3 student built and programmed robots per team, 2 halves, 1 minute each in a double elimination autonomous robobattle to the finish.

I just got back from this years event and it was a good deal of fun, though it made me wish I had a bot competing. Some metal in the game as it were.

You can check out the full website at  For video, go here. It's still live streaming if you read this before 8pm EST.