January 9, 2008 • 7:48 pm 0
There is a new podcast put on by the folks who do the Skeptical Guide to the Universe and contains a brief (about 5 minutes) review of a current news item from a skeptical point of view. It’s called The Skeptic’s Guide 5×5. And if you don’t already subscribe the full Skeptic’s Guide you should be ashamed of yourself.
January 9, 2008 • 7:45 pm 3
As is being reported around the web, The Pope in his infallible wisdom is asking the faithful to pray that the Lord will root out pedophiles from the clergy. I can barely contain the anger I feel at the utter infallible stupidity of this. Gee, I don’t know, you infallible moron, why don’t you listen to your sheeple when they say, “Hey I think my 8 year old is being molested” and when 5 more people come forward and say the same thing. Hmmmmmm….. There might be something to these accusations.
Oh, I know why don’t you read the Philadelphia grand jury report that tells you EXACTLY how the priests did what they did, and the disgusting bishops who let them get away with it. I know what you could do how about punish no one, move around the bishops responsible for allowing this behavior to continue, oh wait, you’re doing that.
Cardinal Hummes said that the aim was to put a definitive stop to a scandal that had damaged the image of the Church and forced US archdioceses, including Boston and Los Angeles, to pay millions of dollars in compensation to the victims. He said that the scandal was exceptionally serious, although it was probably caused by “no more than 1 per cent” of the 400,000 Catholic priests around the world.
Well I’m glad that it’s only contained to no more than 4,000 priests worldwide by the Catholic Church’s own esimate, I’m sure they aren’t being conservative in their numbers or anything. I’m also glad that the Church’s focus is on limiting their liability for compensating families because it’s really difficult to save face when you keep handing over gobs of cash.
The next thing you know some moron politician in a drought-stricken area will pray for rain. Sorry, this news item hit me at the end of a bad day.
January 8, 2008 • 12:24 am 0
I have just finished the book entitled Conjuring Science: Scientific Symbols and Cultural Meanings in American Life by Christopher P. Toumey. This is a nice break after my religion binge of late. If you are wondering I’m debating whether I move on to the Jared Diamond books on my list (see Brain Food) or I do have Carl Hiaasen’s book Basket Case (which is probably completely unrelated to either science or skepticism). I may read Basket Case before some more weighty material, actually I just decided that’s what I am going to do.
Anyway, I haven’t quite finished yet but I figured I would start blogging some of the points that I found very interesting now. Just as a brief synapsis, I’ll quote from the back of the book,
What are the implications for Americans when actors who play doctors on television endorse medical products, or when an entire town in the Midwest prepares for an earthquake based on the specious advice of a zoologist?
Toumey argues that instead of comprehending scientific knowledge, methods, or standards, most Americans know science only in terms of symbols that stand for science and that stand between people and scientific understanding. He breaks this paradox down into three questions. First, what are the historical conditions that have caused the culture of science to be so estranged from other parts of American culture? Second, how does science fit into American democratic culture today? And third, if the symbols of science are being used to endorse or legitimize certain values and meanings, but not the value and meanings of science, then to what do they refer?
Throughout the book the author takes the media to task for the sensationalist and shallow science journalism whose effects “…break up the public’s understanding of science into a fragmented miscellaney of trivia, mystery and trinkets…”.
Early in the book during a discussion of what makes good and bad television and how the shallow nature of television’s visual media contributes to the phenomenon that viewers treat all images on the television as equally real. In one paragraph he makes the following statement,
Close-ups of peoples’ faces are good television, whether in soap operas, sitcoms, sports events, talk shows, news reports, or science programs. So, too, “hate, fear, jealousy, winning, wanting, and violence” are the essense of “good television” because these kinds of content required fewer details, starker backgrounds, and more obvious forms than do other kinds of content. Furthermore, competition between stations or between networks requires a large amount of visual razzle-dazzle to hold the viewer’s attention and thus dissuade him or her from switching channels or, God forbid, turning off the television. Technical events such as cuts, pans, zooms, dissolves, and split screens occcur about every six seconds during ordinary network television and much more during commercials. Again, this characteristic is not the intentional preference of those who own the medium but rather an artifact of television technology; this is the only successful way to organize visual images in a competitive market, for it holds the viewer’s attention, almost to the point of hypnosis, but says Mander, this visual razzle-dazzle is “technique as replacement of content” because the frantic pace of switching visual images makes it impossible for the viewer to follow any one thought for very long.
Six seconds. Try it, watch any show this evening on any network and start counting as soon as a new scene switches. Six seconds. Don’t even bother with a commercial, you’ll barely make it to one. I thought to myself that this applies to shows like Desperate Housewives (it does) but won’t for something from the National Geographic channel or some other science-based show (wrong!). Six seconds. I don’t really know what this means in the grand scheme of things and what the impact of that kind thing has on someone but it blows me away. I even popped in one of my favorite kung fu movies Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. There is one scene in which the two main characters, who clearly have the hots for each other but deny themselves to each other, are having tea. The director pans the shot out and you see both of them sitting there sipping tea, very still, total silence, in that one shot Ang Lee was able to convey the essence of the two characters relationship. Six seconds.
This book covers a number of topics related to the use of the Symbols of Science as substitutes for explaining or conveying the actual heart of the scientific method but I will save those for another time.
January 3, 2008 • 1:55 pm 0
Ok, I swear I will stop with all of the religious posts. I get on a kick sometimes and can’t stop. I swear this this the last one.
Instead of reading something weighty like Dawkins or Hitchens, I decided to take something a little more light-hearted. I chose to finish by religion-binge with Christopher Moore’s hilarious book Lamb: The gospel according to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal.
Surprisingly my first impression of this book is that it is not nearly as sacreligious as it could have been. In fact, unless you consider someone telling a fictional tale of Jesus’ missing years (from birth to about 30) as sacreligious in and of itself, then I would dare say that Christopher keeps the Jesus of Christianity intact.
Let me start by giving a brief synapsis of the book. Levi bar Alpheas (aka Biff) is risen from the dead by an angel into modern times and ordered to write a new Gospel of Jesus (Joshua’s) life. Biff has a unique perspective since he was Joshua’s best friend and was by Joshua’s side from 5 years old until his death on the cross. Biff tells his story filling in a number of the “blanks” left in the Gospels since most of the disciples/apostles that wrote the Gospels and beyond only knew Jesus from the time he started his ministry at age 30.
This book is absolutely hilarious, these are just 2 examples that had me laughing out loud (I think I might have scared the guy next to me on the plane).
This excerpt takes place when Joshua and Biff are traveling to the East in search of the three wise men so that Joshua can learn how to be the Messiah, they are about 15 years old and are just about to meet the first wise man, Balthasar,
“I’m Joshua of Nazareth, ” Joshua said, trying to be casual, but his voice broke on Nazareth. “And this is Biff, also of Nazareth. We’re looking for Balthasar. …
“Balthasar is no more of this world.” The dark figure reached into his robe and pulled out a glowing dagger, which he held high, then plunged into his own chest. There was an explosion, a flash, and an anguished roar as if someone had killed a lion. Joshua and I turned and frantically scratched at the iron door, looking for a latch. We were both making an incoherent terrorized sound that I can only describe as the verbal version of running, sort of an extended rhythmic howl that paused only when the last of each lungful of air squeaked out of us.”
and then again, after leaving Balthasar they have just been accepted into the Buddhist monastery of Gaspar where they have been given a list of all the rules they must follow, stripped of their identity and been assigned numbers, Joshua is Monk Number 22 and Biff is Monk Number 21, they are being given their first assignments lessons,
“Monk Number Twenty-two,” Gaspar said to Joshua, “you shall begin by learning how to sit.”
“I can sit,” [Biff] said.
“And you, Number Twenty-one, will shave the yak.”
“That’s an expression, right?”
I don’t know how funny these passages translate when taken out of the book but I’m laughing just thinking about Biff shaving that yak. Ouch.
Anyway, I hope you get a chance to read the book, it delves into a lot of Eastern philosophies, like Buddhism and Yoga that you can find evidence of in the New Testament. This book actually makes Jesus seem a lot more human than many in Christianity ever get a sense of. He fears, he laughs, he get angry, he cusses (ok that one might bug people), he is curious about sex, he loves, he feels guilt, he’s human and in this book unlike in the real Gospels, you get the feeling that Jesus actually understands what it is like to be human, not some holier-than-thou God/Man that no one ever has the hope of ever of even coming close to.