Monday, January 30, 2012

Fun with selection!

Today I thought of an easy and fun way to understand the process of selection in evolution.   I believe it would be a good way to teach children about evolution and a good response to anyone dragging out that tired old metaphor about the parts of a jumbo jet coming together randomly.

Just to cover my butt, I am sure someone else has come up with this idea before, but a quick google search didn't reveal anything.  If you know someone wrote about this before me, please let me know so I can attribute it to them.

Anyhow, here is what you do:  get five dice.  Rolling all five dice at once, try and get the same number on all five on the same roll.  This is unlikely to happen.  According to Wolfram Alpha, the odds of getting the same number on all five dice on the same roll are 1 in 1296.  Now try getting not just five of the same number, but five of a specific number, say one, on the same roll.  It is not going to happen unless you are very very lucky.  

Now let's change the rules a little.  Now, when you roll all five, any dice that come out a one you can set aside.  Roll the remaining dice and set aside the ones.  Repeat until all the dice show a one.  As I am writing this, I gave it a try and it took 14 rolls to get all of the dice to show one.  This is in keeping with the numbers I got earlier when I did this same thing eighteen times.  The average number of rolls was between twelve and thirteen (five was the lowest and twenty-two the highest).  

So in a fairly small number of rolls through the mechanism of selection, we are able to accomplish something that would otherwise be very improbable.  

Anyhow, I am sure you have heard of similar examples.  I just thought this one was fun because you can actually do it.

What is Japanese for "Bullshit"?

...Because I think I have found some.  Rather, it has found me.  This booklet appeared in my mailbox today.  Disclaimer: I can't read Japanese, so I don't really know what this booklet says.  It could be some seriously profound stuff.  That would surprise the hell out of me.  Regardless, my BS-o-meter went straight into the red when I saw this cover design, and the words "The Imperishable Laws" written across the top.  But let's look inside, don't judge a book(let) by its cover, right?  What is in here: 
That's right, UFOs!  Man, I wish I could read this.  Say, what is that mysterious shadow in the lower right-hand corner?  Bigfoot?  Nessie?  iPhone 4?  

So, who are these people and what do they believe?  See for yourself.  

Just thought I would share.  May the blessing of El Cantare's UFO be upon you...

Thursday, January 26, 2012

NPR addiction

If you didn't know, I am a bit of an NPR junkie.  I have been for years.  I get a lot of my news from them, but I also love all the little off beat stories they do that people are always making fun of them for.  Anyhow, I just watched this interview with Terry Gross from Fresh Air and I have to say that she rules.

Friday, January 20, 2012

How is your state doing?

I was perusing through some articles (as usual over at NPR) and I came across this article, which did not make me happy at all.  I read through it and it looks like last year was a great year to be anti-choice.  The thing about the heartbeat really went off the deep end.  I mean, what does the heart have to do with personhood (and I don't even want to talk about personhood amendments now)?  Why not elbows?  Or nostrils?  But none of this is new, and most of it wasn't even news to me.  What did catch my eye was the American's United for Life Life List.  It is a list ranking states in how much they restrict women's reproductive freedom.  Those that restrict it the most, as you can see, are labeled: Best States.  Those that restrict it least: Worst States.  No qualification to that at all, just best and worst.  Screw that.  My home state of Indiana sadly scored a "Most Improved Over 2011".  *Sigh*

Monday, January 16, 2012

I am sorry your feelings are hurt.

I would like to relay to you a situation that I find myself in from time to time.  It is after dark and I am walking down a quiet street towards the train station/grocery store/bar/etc.  In front of me is a woman and for whatever reason my pace is faster than hers.  She knows I am behind her and although she continues on her way, I can tell that she is uncomfortable.  Should I speed up to pass her as quickly as possible?  Should I maintain my current speed to avoid adding to an uncomfortable situation?  Or should I slow down to put some distance between us?  Crossing the street is also an option.  Regardless, we have an awkward situation.  For her because she doesn't know my intentions, and for me because I don't like making her feel uncomfortable.

If you follow many atheist blogs, you have undoubtedly heard about the concept of Schrodinger's Rapist in the last few months.  If by chance you have not it is, as I understand it, the idea that in many settings, because a woman does not know a man's intentions, she must assume that he is a potential rapist.  I have wanted to write on this topic for some time in support of people speaking out against rape, but had a really hard time getting my thoughts together.  I think I understand my hold up now: it really does bother me when a woman considers me a rapist.

I grew up in a family where women vastly outnumbered men.  For the first ten years of my extended family life there were no other male members of my generation.  Because of that, I have from early childhood always enjoyed close friendships with members of the opposite sex.  Furthermore, I find the idea of rape to be utterly despicable and have long been committed to gender equality.  Given these factors, it really does hurt my feelings to be considered a potential rapist.  Well, after all of these weeks of deliberation, I have come up with a solution to my hurt feelings: get over it, Mike.  Man up.  (Sorry for that one, blame it on The Book of Mormon musical)

I actually do think it is unfair that many men, despite having no untoward desires or being as gentle as a butterfly are thought of and perhaps treated by a strange woman as a potential sex criminal.  It isn't fair.  It's not. They didn't do anything wrong.  But you know what?  Life isn't fair.  And there are a lot of things out there a whole lot worse that being treated suspiciously by a stranger.  One of those things is being raped by a stranger (or someone you know for that matter).

According to the U.S. census page there are about a hundred thousand reported cases of forcible rape each year, and as I understand it, the vast majority of rape is not reported.  The census, as far as I am aware, does not collect data on hurt feelings.   In other words, rape is a real and serious threat.  Hurt feelings; not so much.   Furthermore, rape is something that men rarely have to worry about, so we can't really know how a woman feels around strange men.  I can tell you though that if I was walking down a street at night and I knew every stranger I saw had a gun I would be afraid of being victim of violent crime.  Whether I really had anything to be afraid of is irrelevant since I didn't know the intentions of the armed strangers.    I don't care to explain that metaphor in greater detail, but I think the point is clear.

So in short, to the guys out there who, like me, are upset at being considered a potential sexual predator, I ask you to remember that rape is a lot bigger of a problem and a lot more psychologically damaging than hurt feelings.  Until we live in a world where rape is either non-existent or so statistically insignificant that it can no longer be considered a major problem, let's try to work towards that world and suck it up.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Like Jason on the slopes

Oh snap! It's Friday the thirteenth! You know what that means...tomorrow is Saturday and I am going snowboarding. Yeah!

More special privileges for the church

I read this article over at NPR this morning.  Perhaps you have head of it.  It involves a Lutheran school teacher who was asked to resign and was then fired essentially for having narcolepsy.  The teacher sued for discrimination and the case eventually made it to the Supreme Court. The court ruled in favor of the school on the grounds that she was a minister was therefor not protected by anti-discrimination laws.  

I think this ministerial exception to anti discrimination laws could be argued both ways.  For example, if a person was a fully qualified, say, Lutheran minister working for a church, and at some point that person lost their faith but continued to perform his or her duties as a church leader as well as anyone else, should that person be let go?  I would have to say no, but I could see how someone could make the case that the minister should be fired.  

What I find disturbing about this case, however, is how loose and fast religious organizations are allowed to play with this power.  This is not a case of a rogue minister trying to convert the kiddies to devil worshippers or worse (gasp!) atheists.  This is a case of an employee who got fired for a disability, and the reason given was that she led the kids in prayer and therefore the law could not prevent the church from discriminating against her on account of her disability.  I wonder (I really don't know) do any other organizations have this option?  Or is it just for the religious?

I really don't know whether to be enraged by this church stomping on its employee's rights or whether I should be experiencing schadenfreude and saying, "That's what you get." Regardless, I shouldn't feel surprised.  

Sunday, January 8, 2012

War on religion

I just read this article over at NPR.  The irony burns.  It burns!  Just check out this line:

"I believe the greatest threat to religious liberty is the clash between religious liberty and LGBT rights," [Mathew Staver] says.
Staver says as rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people make gains, religious conservatives are having to set aside their convictions. A Christian counselor was penalized for refusing to advise gay couples. A court clerk in New York was told to issue same-sex marriage licenses, despite religious reservations. A wedding photographer was sued for refusing to shoot a same-sex wedding. Staver says these people aren't trying to impose their religious views on others.
"What people of faith don't want to do, however, is be forced to participate in something that literally cuts to the very core of their belief."
What a crock of shit.  I'm sorry, this is not a zero sum game.  There is no law impugning the right to not get abortions, and there is no law impugning the right to not get gay-married.  Grow up people.  

Xmas vacation is over

I am back from my Xmas holiday in the States and will resume blogging for real shortly.  One highlight of the trip was picking up the Book of Mormon soundtrack for my mom.  I figured it would be raunchy but I wasn't ready for it as I was listening to it with my mom on the way to the dentist.  She didn't care for it, but I loved it.