September 29, 2013

Blasphemy: funny if it weren't so dangerous

Today is International Blasphemy Day, an event held on the anniversary of the 2005 publication in Denmark of those infamous cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Blasphemy Day isn't aimed merely at Islam or Christianity, but at any and all religions and sects that include the concepts of blasphemy, apostasy, desecration, sacrilege, and so on. "Ideas don't need rights," says the slogan, "people do."

While I was raised by a Christian family, I never became too absorbed by religion, so no doubt I blaspheme regularly without even thinking about it. I've written plenty about religion on this blog, often blasphemously in someone's opinion, I'm sure. In July I wrote my preferred summary of my position:
The incredible height of a mountain, and the depth of geological time—to me, these are natural miracles, not supernatural ones.

In the same post, I also wrote briefly about blasphemy:
Plus, given the scope of this universe, and any others that may exist, why would any god or gods be so insecure as to require regulated tributes from us in order to be satisfied with their accomplishments?

If the consequences—imposed by humans against each other, of course—weren't so serious in some places, the idea of blasphemy would be quite funny. Even if there were a creator (or creators) of the universe, how could anything so insignificant a a person, or even the whole population of such a miniscule planet, possibly insult it?

We're talking about the universe here. (Sorry, should be properly blasphemous: the goddamned universe.) It's 13.7 billion years old, containing billions of galaxies, with billions of stars each. On that scale, anything happening here on Earth is entirely irrelevant.

As far as I'm concerned, there are no deities anyway. But if you believe there are, consider this: it's silly to think that a god or gods could be so emotionally fragile as to be affected by our thoughts and behaviors, and even sillier to believe that people could or should have any role in enforcing godly rules. Silliest yet is the idea that believers in a particular set of godly rules should enforce those rules on people who don't share the same belief.

Being a good person is worth doing for its own sake, and for the sake of our fellow creatures. Sometimes being good, or even simply being accurate, may require being blasphemous by someone else's standards. Today is a day to remember that.

September 23, 2013

Wear sunscreen (and more life-changing advice)

Fifteen years later, this advice continues to resonate with me. Originally published as a column in the Chicago Tribune, Baz Luhrmann borrowed the words (and a song by Rozalla) to produce this musical speech that has impacted my life and doubtless many others.

I try to listen to this at least once a month.

Don't tear down that wall!

Many Americans no longer believe in the separation of Church and State, and indeed deny it is a principle found in the Constitution. But the wording of the First Amendment is quite clear, and its importance is underlined by its being first. It was certainly clear to Thomas Jefferson, who wrote, "I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church & State."

That's why it's alarming to see so many politicians who want to tear down that wall. It's most evident in the eagerness of states to permit the teaching of Creationism (under the guise of Intelligent Design) in public schools, despite the Pennsylvania ruling that "the overwhelming evidence at trial established that ID is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory."

The other big test of separation of Church and State is seen in the attempt to legislate contraceptives, abortion, and other matters pertaining to childbirth. We've had politicians propose to ban all funds for Planned Parenthood, outlaw abortion under all circumstances, and allow employers to deny women access to cancer screenings and birth control.

The purpose of this post is not to discuss issues like abortion (I've done that before). I'm more concerned with those who want to pass laws enforcing their religious beliefs. It's apparent that they see no conflict between the laws they propose and the separation of Church and State.

The First Amendment provides that each and every American is entitled to follow the teachings of the church of their choice, or even no church at all. What if your beliefs, or church, permit abortion? Are you to become a criminal? Such laws legislate the personal religious beliefs of the legislators, which is unacceptable.

If I believe my church's teachings are correct, an appropriate course of action should be to convert you to my church, not pass laws forcing you to follow its beliefs. Isn't that obvious? It frightens me that politicians who bear the responsibility of upholding the Constitution have such a careless understanding of it.

September 18, 2013

The most important image captured by Hubble

In 1996, out of sheer curiosity, scientists took a risk by pointing the Hubble telescope at a dark area of space—one seemingly devoid of stars and planets. That leap of faith quickly proved fruitful: light from over three thousand galaxies illuminated the image.

Hubble's glimpse into what we now know as the deep field has revealed that we are an extremely small part of a vast system comprising 100 billion galaxies.


September 16, 2013

I know what the fox says

Following this video's rise to fame, I felt it would be appropriate to share what the fox actually says:

Joff-tchoff-tchoffo-tchoffo-tchoff was a good guess, but sadly incorrect.

When the kids ask, you can tell them that dogs go woof, cats go meow, and foxes go YAGHHHAAAGGHHHHH!

To write

Given everything that’s been going on lately, I’ve started to neglect this blog a bit. Going forward, I’ll endeavor to abide by these two rules:

  1. Post one post a day, on average.

  2. Include a link in every post.

Sounds like a recipe for success to me. Whether I’ll be able to keep up with it is another story.

September 14, 2013

Headed home

Tonight is my last night in beautiful Clearwater, Florida. In the morning I'll leave behind my grandmother, two aunts, and several cousins to return to my Ohio home. It's a bittersweet time given that I won't see some of my favorite people for at least another year, but I'm looking forward to getting back home to Sabrina. Until next year, Florida.

[gallery link="file" ids="367,368,369,370,371,372,376,377,378,379,375"]

September 8, 2013

No one understands the lottery

It’s no secret that the human brain doesn’t get the concept of probability. My very basic understanding from a few math courses (and a slight interest) is the reason I don’t care to buy lottery tickets. Sure, your chances of winning are zero if you don’t play, but your chances of winning if you do play are so close to zero that it really makes no difference. You’re better off wandering around town looking for someone to drop a few million dollars on the street.

If I ever buy a lottery ticket (I won’t), my numbers will be consecutive: 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on. Those are just as likely to be a winning combination as anything else. In fact, four (!) people in New South Wales, Australia won a jackpot using numbers 1 through 10 as their picks, receiving more than $2 million each.

If you do play the lottery, know that choosing consecutive numbers isn’t the best strategy. While they do have the exact same chance of winning as any other set, it’s more likely that several players will choose them, as with those Australians, so you’ll have to split any winnings you receive. That’s because, unlike the numbers drawn, the numbers people pick are not random. Going with a random set of numbers each time would bring the best likelihood—still unimaginably small—of keeping it all yourself, or splitting with fewer others.

Leave me out of it, though. If I have a few bucks to spend, I’ll get myself a burger. The burger is guaranteed.

September 4, 2013

Greetings from Clearwater!

I’m spending the next week-and-a-half in lovely Clearwater, Florida, visiting some relatives I haven’t seen in six years (and some I’ve never met). We’re planning our first-ever reunion where the whole family will be in attendance.

It’s storming right now (nightly storms are common this time of year), but overall the weather has been beautiful.

I’ll be here for the next ten days—who else is in the Tampa Bay area?