Archive for December 2013

Thoughts On Image And Reality

This whole “Duck Dynasty” controversy has led to a few thoughts on religious conservatives, and conservatives in general.

Many have pointed out that although a lot of christians are saying they hate the sin, yet love the sinner. Yet it doesn’t sound like they love the sinner.

There was an article on Daily Kos whose main thrust was these guys are not really the rednecks they appear. They used to look quite preppy. The article also pointed out that although they don’t like gay people, there are a lot of rules in the bible they do not follow. The article focuses a lot on the fact that they are wealthy. I also saw a tweet pointing out there are rules against idols, and these guys sell a LOT of stuff with their images on them. I saw a placard for “Duck Commander” eyewear in a WalMart in Boise just yesterday. They say they believe in absolute truth, yet they pick and choose which rules they follow, knowingly or not.

A lot of people think that all homophobic Christians are closet cases. Everybody loves to point to Ted Haggard. I do not think that is the main reason. 31 states have amendments banning gay marriage. I have a hard time believing that a majority of voters in that many states are closet cases. I think there is something else going on.

I read a book by a guy named Randall Balmer called Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts Faith and Threatens America. He thinks the reason a lot of christians focus on teh gay is because it is the perfect sin: The bible says it is wrong, and I am never going to do it, so let’s talk about that.

That makes a lot more sense to me. I recently read an article on Andrew Sullivan’s website comparing Obama and Democrats to Bush and Republicans. The starting point was a film about Rumsfeld. Obama admits his mistakes and corrects them, while Bush denied what was going on and just doubled down.¬† And the GOP never broke ranks. I think part of the root cause of a lot of all this is that conservatives care more about image than reality.

I have noticed a lot of repubs saying that they admire Vlad Putin. He is a dictator, he is harboring a leaker that many Americans regard as a traitor, he jails dissidents, but it’s all okay with some Americans because he hates teh gayz. I seems like from 2001 to 2009, repubs thought anyone who liked any foreign head of state more than the repulican dear leader were traitors. I guess for a lot of people morality has degenerated into nothing more than “Don’t like teh gayz.” Ignore the fact that he’s a dictator.

Another example of christians picking and choosing which rules they follow came from an interview Krista Tippet did on her show a while back, when it was called “Speaking of Faith”. I was not able to find it, but I think it might have been Calvin DeWitt. He said that he had a couple of decades ago he hard time getting churches to do anything about hunger, because allegedly Jesus himself said “You will always have the poor with you.” They used this as an excuse to do nothing. So he took a razor, and took out all the verses in the whole bible about helping to poor. By the time he was done it was in tatters. When he would preach he would wave it around and say, “This is the real bible of America.”

I guess for some reason people think they will be better people or nicer if they are christian or something. It seems to me if you are going to think that, you should also follow the rules that take real effort.

Maybe everyone fools themselves to an extent. But for a bunch of people who believe in an omnimax being who has the ability (and supposedly the desire) to get them to see things as they are, this is all pretty egregious.

Image from Pyongyang Traffic Girls, assumed allowed under Fair Use

Site Updates 2013-12-26

I made a few updates to the site over the past few weeks.

I redid the Atheism/Skepticism pages. I think before the main page was blank, and there was a page for “Groups” which only had groups in Illinois, and a page for “Other States”. Now the main page has links to state-wide groups in other states, and there is now a page for Illinois groups and Texas groups.

I also added a couple of pages to the Lists section. I added a list of atheist podcasts and a list of podcasts about science. I have not listened to all of these. It is nice to have a list to reference when I want to hear something new.

I also have a page with a list of dividend ETFs. I might write a post soon explaining why I am looking at dividend ETFs.

Image from Wikipedia, assumed allowed under Fair Use

Overheard Conversations On Airplanes

I have been travelling back and forth from Austin to Boise, Idaho for work over the past month. So I have spent quite a bit of time on airplanes and at airports. I have overheard a few interesting conversations.

On one flight, there was a guy who worked¬† for a “non-denominational” christian organization. It was either a school or a non-profit, I cannot remember. I think it’s kind of funny when christians label themselves “non-denominational”. They seem to think this implies an objectivity or neutrality that does not really exist.

At one point he said that as a society “we put too much faith in science.” I thought: You are in a metal tube filled with flammable liquid suspended thousands of feet in the air. You’d better have some faith in science. The taxicab fallacy at its finest.

If skeptics and atheists have “faith in science“, it is not faith in the sense of worshipping an invisible deity whose behavior is consistent with non-existence, or belief in things without proof. It is the assumption that since the scientific method has increased our understanding of the world in the past that it will continue to do so. I think that as long as religion claims to be a method for understanding the world, it will always be incompatible with science. Besides, if religion had anything to do with technology, why didn’t god tell people how to make airplanes 5,000 years ago?

Another conversation was with a guy who was a medical assistant at a clinic that did vision correction surgery. He said that Medicare reimburses them right away. But private insurance companies drag their feet. He said they have to submit claims to private insurance companies several times, but they only have to submit to Medicaid once. He said that about 50% of the people working at his clinic do nothing but deal with insurance companies. Do we really have the best health care system in the world?

Lastly, one time when I got back to Austin it was about 35 degrees Fahrenheit. I heard someone say that the day before it was in the 80s. Climate scientists have been predicting temperature volatility for years. Yet many people still think it’s a big hoax.

Image from Uncyclopedia, assumed allowed under Fair Use. I do not have the time to determine if it is allowed under Unfair Use

Thoughts On Christmas

I have been listening to old episodes of Freethought Radio, and checking my roster of blogs and websites, and this year we have had the usual “War On Christmas” nonsense.

One theme I have heard this year is that a lot of christians think that atheists are hypocrites for “celebrating” Christmas and for taking the day off.

First off, I am not “celebrating” anything today. I am taking the day off, but that is not the same as celebrating. Nor does that imply any sort of worship or devotion. It is really bizarre the way some christians try to insist that on one hand, “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship”, yet anything that atheists do IS a religion.

A lot of christians do not work on Saturdays. Does that make Saturday a holy day for them? If they can take a day off, why can’t the rest of us?

Plus, you kind of have to take the day off on Christmas if you want to or not. A lot of businesses are closed or reduce their hours. When the country shuts down, you take the day off too, regardless of what you believe.

What is really galling is their religion has forced all of us to change our routines, yet somehow they think they are being attacked or persecuted. Then again if you believe in superstition, all logic goes out the window.

Right now I am in Boise, Idaho for work. I am not too familiar with the area. I can go between the airport, the hotel, the client site, WalMart and the Mongolian place downtown. For the past few Christmases, I have either been unemployed, in an unfamiliar city, or both. So for me, having a day when I do not have to do anything is a nice break.

And if I get a day off because a bunch of people believe Bronze Age fairy tales, I am okay with that.

Image from Wikipedia, assumed allowed under Fair Use

Second Last Post On First Year In Austin

This is my second last post on my first year in Austin. (Not my second-to-last, or penultimate, post on the subject, but the second time that I think I am writing the final post.)

One thing I noticed that was not a surprise is there are a lot more trucks here. Sometimes when I am going somewhere I think for a second that someone stole my car or I have no idea where it is. Then I walk ten feet and I find that it was obscured by a truck.

I have also noticed that a lot of parking lots have thin spots. Some of them are almost too small for my car. I find this odd since there are so many trucks. If I can barely fit in some of these spaces, there is no way they could fit.

Image from Wikipedia, assumed allowed under Fair Use

Last Post On First Year In Austin

I use Meetup to find things to do. I joined a few years ago when I was in Chicago. I actually have a couple of accounts: One I use for technology meetups, and one for everything else (atheism/skepticism, science, sci-fi, gaming, Celtic culture, etc).

When I moved, I left the Chicago groups and found groups in Austin that I was interested in. I have noticed that a lot of Meetup groups will sometimes charge for events. It seems like a lot of them are people using them to run their businesses. It strikes me as a bit unseemly. I like using to find stuff to do that does not cost a lot. Sometimes the organizers of groups that I am in will ask for money to cover the organizer fees. That I do not have a problem with.

Anyway, I don’t remember too many events requiring a fee in Chicago. It seems to be more common in Austin.

Another thing that I have noticed in both Chicago and Austin is that a lot of people love to do stuff on Tuesdays. It is true for technical user groups and the non-technical groups. It is pretty frustrating. It seems when people talk about starting a group, they will say, “When should we do this? I know! Let’s do it on Tuesdays!”

I can see why people do not want to schedule something on Fridays. But what is wrong with the other three days? A lot of times when I am planning my week, I will notice that there are at least two things on Tuesdays that I want to attend, but Wednesday or Thursday (or both) will be completely blank. In all seriousness, I do not understand why people reflexively want to schedule something on Tuesdays. When I hear about people say they are thinking about starting a group I ask them to NOT pick Tuesdays.

I generally like to go to regular, monthly meetings. I generally do not like to go to one-off events. Perhaps the rest of the world likes to go to one-off events and I am the only person who does not.

But the Tuesday Reflex seems odd to me.

Image from Wikipedia, assumed allowed under Fair Use

More Thoughts On Austin

I realized something about Austin that I really don’t like.

A lot of people will cut across two or three lanes of traffic right before the exit. This happens a lot.

I also have noticed there are a lot more types of trucks on the highways: many types of large equipment being transported, wind turbine blades, lots of stuff like that. Sometimes I wish that I had a camera to take pictures of these large trucks. I don’t remember seeing so many types of large trucks in Illinois.

Image from Wikipedia, assumed allowed under Fair Use


Japanese Poem About Spanish Lady

There is more to Japanese poetry than haiku.

The most common throughout history was tanka, which is 5-7-5-7-7.

I never really understood Japanese poetry until I read Traditional Japanese Poetry: An Anthology, with commentary and translations by Steven Carter. I read it on a lark in college, and I liked it so much I got my own copy.

There are other forms besides haiku and tanka, and they all have lines of five or seven syllables. Conveniently enough, there is one of the form 5-7-5-7-7-7, called Bussokusekika.

The Spanish lady
bought a condo recently
along the red line.
Tomorrow I catch a flight
from Austin to Atlanta.
I should have stayed back up north.

Yesterday I had to turn my apartment upside down to find a winter hat and gloves. I did not think I would need them in Austin, but then I did not think I would get shipped out to Boise every week either. I later realized I did not know where I put the map of Spain she gave me a few years ago. I am sure I still have it. I just do not recall seeing it.

As the Prophets would say, it is not linear.

Image generated by Wolfram Alpha on 2013-12-08, allowed by their terms of use

Thoughts On The Taxi Cab Fallacy

A while back I came across a post on Wickersham’s Conscience about the taxicab fallacy. He said it is a fallacy for conservatives to question or deny science while using the fruits of science.

I am sure that many atheists and skeptics have found it odd that many fundamentalists say evolution is a lie, yet they continue to see a doctor. Or someone argues against science and technology on the internet. WC gave the example that Florida Senator Marco Rubio thinks the world is only 6,000 years old, yet he probably uses a cel phone with GPS. GPS relies on the concept of radioactive decay. Radioactive decay corroborates and confirms estimates which put the age of the earth at far beyond 6,000 years.

Phil Plait was on Are We Alone a few years ago, and he and the host were commenting on the fact that fundamentalists attack evolution, yet for some reason they do not talk too much about the Big Bang. If you are going to push bad biology, why not push bad chemistry and bad physics as well? If you think that the scientific method is not a good way of acquiring knowledge, then isn’t it hypocritical to enjoy the fruits of the scientific method? Isn’t it logically inconsistent to keep the parts of science you like, and discard the rest?

I think that if you believe in god and use electricity, you need to think long and hard about your life.

I did a little digging, and the taxicab fallacy was actually coined by fundamentalists. Here is a paragraph from Street Apologetics:
A detractor of the Christian worldview cannot hop into the Christian system of thought by erecting an objection grounded in the Bible and then demand an answer be given without the use of a Bible. – See more at:

For a more in-depth look, see Iron Chariots.

I think fundamentalists came up with it to justify circular reasoning. Something Surprising also came to this realization.

If you are going to try to convert me to your religion and get me to change my life, then I can set whatever rules I want. If I do not believe in the Bible, then demanding proof from outside the biblical worldview is justified. I do have one quibble with their definition: my objections to religion are not “grounded in the Bible.” My objections to religion are grounded in reality. I do not object from the Bible. I object to the Bible.

I think that WC is right to define the taxicab fallacy the way he does. I think the atheists and skeptics are using the taxi cab fallacy more appropriately than religious people. Christians accuse atheists of committing the taxicab fallacy when they are trying to convert us. We accuse them of committing the taxicab fallacy as they go about their daily lives, if not every minute of it.

I think another example of the taxicab fallacy is people in the oil industry who deny climate change. (Side note: most people who are called “climate change skeptics” are not skeptics. They are climate change deniers.) Oil rigs and refineries require a lot of advanced scientific and technological knowledge. Oil exploration uses a lot of seismic data, and also uses advanced software to analyze it. At the same time, the consensus of climate scientists is that climate change is happening, and it is caused by humans. I guess Upton Sinclair was right: A man cannot understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it.

The “Are We Alone” podcast is now called “Big Picture Science“.

Image from Wikimedia, assumed allowed under Fair Use

Thoughts On Austin

I have been in Austin since October, 2012.

When I moved here, a friend of mine from college let me stay for a couple of months in a condo she owns. I spent that time looking for a more permnanent place. It was harder than I thought.

I was still on a contract, not a full-time employee. Some landlords had a problem with that, others were concerned that I had been unemployed. I made a copy of my savings account statement. I have enough in there to live for a year. The guy at the bank was impressed, but apartment companies did not care. If you brag to other states about all the jobs you have, you are going to get some people with spotty histories. I wondered that if someone had no job and no savings, then would they be able to find a place to live here? So much for second chances.

Just about all the apartment complexes have a pool, which I have no interest in at all. I guess it’s nice if a family has kids, but I still do not like the fact that I have to pay for something that I do not want.

Costs are starting to go up here. I was paying $675/month for about 575 square feet. I looked at a few other places, but I was not able to find anything better in time. Besides, I think with moving I would come out behind. But still, my rent is now $715/month. A new person moving into that space would pay $750. I am also paying more for cable, as I have mentioned before.

I would have liked to find a studio like I had in Chicago, but I could not find any small apartments. I did not want to live near campus. I have heard that everything around campus is very expensive.

There is not much mass transit here. There is a system that seems geared towards the university. Needing a car to go everywhere is a real drag. My brakes started making some grinding noises, and I thought that I might need a new car. But I got them fixed.

The traffic lights are not as rational as Chicago. There, north and south get the left turn, then the green light. Then east and west get the left turn, then the green light. I have never quite been able to discern the pattern here. Honestly, I get too frustrated sometimes to try to sort it out. I think it is something like north gets the left turn, then north and south get the green light, then south gets the left turn, then east and west go through the cycle. What I can tell you is that I have spent quite a bit of time at red lights when people travelling in three directions are waiting, and there is nobody going in the direction that gets the green.

Plus merging onto and off of highways can be a pain. When you go onto a road, you are merging to your left, but when you get off you merge to the right, into the same lane as people merging into the traffic. I am surprised there are not more accidents. I wonder why the roads were not designed such that you enter on the left and exit on the right.

There are a lot of yoga studios here, as well as a few Zen groups. I would like to spend more time on those. I might look into living in an “intentional community”. There are a couple of those in Austin. I’ve been unemployed, so technology takes priority over other things. So if Secular Texas meets on the same night as the Groovy/Grails group, I go to Groovy. So I am not as involved in the atheist community here as I would like.

The atheist community is not as large or robust as I would like. There is a podcast made here called “The Atheist Experience”. I have not gotten around to listening to it yet, but a lot of people in other parts of the country listen to it. I somehow got the impression that the atheist/skeptical community would be bigger. I have heard that the people who make the show do not mix much with the other atheists in Austin. There is no group with the work “Skeptic” in their name.

There is a branch of the CFI here, and that is a good group. They usually have something once a week. Secular Texas is a spin-off of that. They also have a group for atheist/skeptic women called Secular Suzies. Perhaps I will find my dream woman in Texas.

I have been going to quite a few meetups. There are a few oriented around games and science fiction. Geekdom is pretty large. It is for people who are into science and technology, as well as science fiction, fantasy, comic books, and stuff like that. Sometimes somebody there gets on my nerves. There is a LOT of science fiction out there. If you think about how much there is to “Star Trek”, “Star Wars” or “Doctor Who”, there is a lot of stuff. I hate it when someone quotes a movie or something, and I ask them what they are referencing, and they will look at me like I have two heads and say, “Haven’t you seen XYZ?” No I have not. There is a lot to see.

I have also started going to the Austin Celtic Meetup. When I was in Chicago, one of the most Irish cities in America, I never really looked into Irish or Celtic culture. But somehow I found out these guys were giving Gaelic lessons, so I decided to go. In Chicago I also went to the Latino Atheists group, and now I live in an area with a lot more Latinos, yet I do not really know too many Latinos.

I have met Hispanics who grew up in Texas, yet do not speak any Spanish. Granted, it has only been a few so far, but it was surprising. It seemed odd since this used to be part of Mexico.

Sometimes I think Austin needs to get over itself. I am sure there are people who grow up in small conservative towns all over Texas, who dream of the day they can get out. To someone like that, Austin would probably seem like heaven. But if you have lived in another big city (like Chicago, Portland or Madison) or another college town, it is easy to look at Austin and not see what the big deal is. I guess nobody told them that it is not the only place in the world with a few blocks of bars.

I said this at a meetup, and there was a woman there from another part of Texas, who told me that “you just don’t get it. I have lived all over Texas, and Austin is different.” I did not respond, because it was hard to without calling her stupid. I stated I had been here less that a year. Maybe Austin is unique compared to the rest of Texas, but if you think about the whole country it is not that unique. Besides, if you cannot think about the world beyond Texas, then perhaps Austin is not the place for you.

I don’t know if I will spend the rest of my life here. I would like more control. Right now I do not feel like I have it. Things are not going too well at my job.

Everyone has the best BBQ in Texas. It’s like a religion. They can’t all be right. One guy from Chicago thought it was funny that Austin has a reputation for good food and restaurants. He said it’s a good place if you like beef.

One of the things that was really bugging me about Chicago was there always seemed to be parades, or street fairs, or art fests, or streets getting closed so a few hundred people could ride their bikes. Buses were getting re-routed for these things, and it could make it hard to drive around. If I want to go somewhere, I just want to get in my car (or on a bus or on a train) and go from point A to point B. I shouldn’t have to check a website to see if I need to change my route.

Now Austin has Formula One. (It might also get a soccer team, or something.) I had to travel for work the same day as Formula One (or the day after). So it was really crowded. I would like to live someplace where I can just go about my business.

One thing about Chicago that I really did not like was the constant sirens every night, and sometimes all day. Here I can go several days without hearing a siren.

I have noticed that people from different parts of Texas seem to not like Houston.

People keep mentioning that Texas has no income tax, as if that is the only reason to live here. It is easy to have no income tax when you have oil. Sales tax seems pretty high. Perry is trying to convince more people from blue states to move here. Why not try to recruit from states that have Republican governors? If you are goint to brag to people in New York about Texas’ lower costs but not do the same for New Jersey, then you are a liar, an idiot, or both.

Those blue states have higher taxes because they actually build roads and educate their kids. (So Perry is a typical conservative: Someone else foots the bill, and he takes the credit.) If people in Texas want the growth to continue, eventually they will have to start paying for roads and schools. Either Texans will start paying more, or the model will break down. You can’t steal smart people from other states forever.

Sometimes I think that this is all a dream, or illusion. I’ll be putting gas in my car, and I will think, “This has been nice, but I am going to go to sleep tonight, and tomorrow I will wake up in Chicago, and get on with my life.” Over the past few days, I have thought a few times: I was in Chicago, then I was in Austin, now I am here. How did that happen?

Image from Wikipedia, assumed allowed under Fair Use