Thursday, January 17, 2013

Guns and Stuff

Josh's Ideas and thoughts on Guns, the Second amendment and such. No order. Just "buckshot" Get it?

Imagine that in my yard, neighbors
It is the right to bear arms. Not guns. If you interpret arms to mean machine gun then tell me why I cannot interpret the same as atomic bomb? If you have trouble, then you already agree with me on gun control. We are just haggling over details. No constitutional violation. Quit your crying.

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Yep... "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State". Since we did not have a professional army at the time we needed our citizens to be familiar with muskets so they could defend the nation and the government would not have to pay for guns. "War on! BYOG!" Bring your own guns.  Since we now have the most powerful professional army on the earth. This seems silly.

What about the second amendment protecting us from a tyrannical autocratic state? Try to stop the United States Army with your machine gun. Stop the choppers, tanks, Aircraft Carriers, Bombers, Nuclear Subs, Nuclear Missiles, and thousands upon thousands of troops. If you can resist even the ATF with your private arsenal, then you are Action movie baddass. Or is that just the fantasy...
Get past these and you still have the Marines...

Sure, you can kill people with a hatchet or a knife. It's just so much more satisfying to mow down a whole crowd in 35 seconds. I would just like to keep that power out of the hands of those who might be so inclined. Call me crazy. Or, call someone who wants the power to kill two dozen people in a few moments crazy. Your choice.

"We cannot have a federal registry because it will make it easier to confiscate the guns later." This necessitates the hidden assumption that these people are looking to break a law which has not even been written yet. Next time someone makes this sort of argument, listen to the statement. Close. They want to stop a law which would make it harder to break another law which has not yet been written. Go 'Murica!I come from country, farm folks. Where there were guns just laying around. I learned to shoot at 9 or 10. Without permission. Just picked them up and went out to the pasture. In the country there are different rules than one might expect in the urban centers. I understand this. My problem is more with the arguments than the guns. Though I do not like the high capacity or automatic weapons. I also suggest a ballistics test on all manufactured guns and all in circulation (that we can get) run by an independent non-governmental organization. Info available, but only by warrant.

This is a rough, off the cuff, group of thoughts. A bit scatter shot but best I got on the fly!!


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Fake Skeptics

So, one thing I hate is the fake skeptic. Because, folks, there are really three kinds of skeptics.

There are actual skeptics. Who think, analyze and question things. Even things that they want to be true. I am a staunch leftest but question whether Bush's crazy wars led to the Arab spring. I question whether Free Market Capitalism really would solve a lot of our economic problems. I do care about the collateral damage that might ensue in the form of sick and starving children and think the short run is more important. But I actively question to this day.

There are those who have questioned a thing or two that society propagates and disagreed but do not question a lot of other things.. Anti-supernaturalists, atheists, anti-quack medicine, anti-alien-contacters. They find one or two things bullshit but do not bother to question the others.

Then there are those that I really get pissed off about. Fake skeptics. They decide to join a club. The atheist club. The anti superstition club. The republican party. Whatever. They drink that Kool Aid. They do not actively question anything. They just take the contrary view that their small sect professes. The religious do this a lot. They think Astrology is bunk because their religion tells them so. Alien contact can't exist because it is not in the bible. Oddly it does not bother me when the religious do this because they are not professing to be skeptics.

I recall at TAM 9, perhaps, (and, no, I did not go) there was an announcement that the atheists should not challenge the religious views of theistic skeptics. Try not to offend them.

I call shenanigans!! A skeptic should be willing to examine any belief. ANY! Paul and I spent some time a year or so ago doing research on the Holocaust. I am Jewish and had relatives who died in the death camps. Still willing to look critically at the story and see how much of it is supported. We found out a lot. I recommend that you do the same. Our research revealed some inconsistencies and flaws in the historical story but supported much and I now am totally justified in defending the existence and horror that the Holocaust was. Because I questioned it.

I have done the same for slavery, the industrial revolution, Memetics, Chanukah, Dark matter and many others. By questioning what I thought I knew I get to do two things. First, I get to correct my misunderstandings. Second, I get real honest support when I was right to begin with. I can now argue the areas I have examined. I don't just assume I am right but now can say I know (as much as we can ever know) that I am right. I challenged my assumptions, corrected where I was wrong and supported where I was right. I was a critical thinker and that IS skepticism.

The fake skeptics just join a club and accept the doctrine. Skeptical of what the club is skeptical about and accepting of the preconceived notions that the club professes. I am a Democrat and still spend a fair amount of time considering the benefits of Fraking, capital gains tax policy, affirmative action, socialized medicine and the like. Just because I join a club does not mean I joined a cult and drank the Kool Aid.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Miracle Diets from the land of Oz

Not related but read this. Quackery!
  It is time for the diet season to get into full steam. Everybody is making New Years Resolutions and they are trying to kick that pesky holiday weight. Some people are using the "Paleo Diet" of eating only foods that would have been available during our species' formative years; no grain, legumes, or refined sugar. Mostly meat and veggies. Some people are still on the "Zone" or Adkins diets of a few years ago. Some madmen are still doing low fat! Goodness sake. All have merit and all require eating less and moving more. None are a magic bullet, though.

This year the trend is to follow the new health guru, Mehmet Oz, MD. After all, he is Oprah's guy and she is always right. Most of his diet advice is ok. He says eat less simple sugars, syrups (which are usually sugar anyway), Enriched Flours (should say non-whole grain as enriching is putting vitamins in, but, whatever), Saturated Fats (which in very small amounts is necessary for hormones and such) and Trans Fats. Aside from my nit picking this is generally good advice. Basically, limit fats and simple sugars. How could we argue with that. At least he is not saying No Carbs or No Fat, like a simple minded asshole. He also has some common sense guidelines:
  • Cut 100 calories. Skip a soda, a 100-calorie snack, or two cookies.
  • Make it automatic. Eat the same meals to cut guesswork and curb temptations.
  • Control portion sizes. Use smaller plates.
  • Don’t eat after 8:30 p.m.
  • Find a weight loss buddy to whom you can turn for support.
  • Learn to cheat responsibly. Make foods flavorful with spices. Or distract yourself until the craving passes.
  • Check in with your doctor.
  • Walk 10,000 steps per day.
  • Monitor your waistline and weight.
  • Keep it up during the second week. And make the basics of healthy eating and activity part of your lifestyle for good.
All fine and dandy. But why leave well enough alone? Dr. Oz goes on to recommend a magic bullet supplement which has been studied for years and has been widely discredited. Hydroxycitric acid. The stuff that gave "Hydroxycut", the diet supplement, its name. It showed promise as a "fat burner" 15 years or more ago but the science has turned up empty. Oz recomends "Garcinia cambogia" which is found in weird sounding fruits like mangosteen and is just another name for hydroxycitric acid.  He promotes "Garcinia cambogia" as new and avoids mentioning that is is the same debunked crap bodybuilders sold a decade ago.

In case anybody is wondering about which supplements have shown a benefit in fat loss: Stimulants. Yep. Uppers. Caffine, Ephedrine, Meth, Cocaine, amphetamines, and the like. They force your body to burn more calories. They make you hyper, and hot, and jittery. That burns calories. It is also not too good for you. What else?
Excess fiber, of course it makes you fart and shit a lot.
Fat blockers, which make you shit liquid. Yay!
Diuretics, which make you lose water weight and feel like crap.
Multivitamins, which do virtually nothing for fat loss except give you all the nutrients you lost with the diuretics and fat blockers.
That is about it. 

What should people do? Follow any of the diets out there, most have some merit. The best diet is the one you will stick to, after all. Can't give up fat? Go for an Adkins or Paleo diet. Can't give up sugar? Go for a low fat diet. Follow Dr. Oz's actual diet plan. But whatever you do, remember that the first week you can lose up to five pounds but not much more. After the first week you should not lose more than two pounds a week. It is dangerous and any diet, supplement or quack which says you should be able to under their product is lying to you. They are taking advantage of you.

This diet season (and I think it is one), I ask you to be reasonable, my friends. Be reasonable and skeptical. You are not going to get great results without putting in the work. For some people it is a lot of work. But gaining a pound requires 3500 or so extra calories, so that took a bit of work too. Great results come from cutting calories by 100 and adding 40 minutes of exercise, three times a week. I recommend 20 minutes of weights and 20 minutes of cardio. But the best exercise regime is the one you will stick with.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

I don't want to be an Atheist

To a majority of this country, and a majority of the world, for that matter, atheists are a poorly understood group consisting of people who hate god, sinners, blasphemers, communists, pimps, prostitutes, sodomites, Satan worshipers, and a group determined to tear down the church. Our battles over the ten commandments, nativity scenes, and creationism have left us guilty of all the above charges in the court of public opinion.

All of these battles we have fought, all these wars we have waged, were necessary, and I am 100% behind any who take up arms (metaphorically) against those who would spend public tax dollars and use public land to promote a religious agenda, no matter how seemly benign. We've won time and time again, not in the court of public opinion, but in the court system of the United States Government.

But who amongst us is out there proselytizing the other side of the coin?

Atheism, in its truest sense, is simply being absent a theology. A-theology. A point that is clearly missed by anyone proclaiming 'I'm agnostic, I'm not an atheist because I don't presume to know.' Clearly, those who claim agnosticism in this manner have no idea what either one of those words mean.

And that is partially our fault. Even those who can get past the whole 'God-hating sinner and sodomites' position are still confronted with the secondary criticism of our collective: we are snobby elitists and 'intellectuals' (used derogatorily, of course.)

When Josh and I started this blog two and a half years ago, we chose the name very carefully. We knew we were bound to offend, but we were also aware that our simple existence would be considered by some to be an afront to good, strong family values, and a Godly existence full of reverence and fear for a man on high guiding our every move and demanding our servitude and idolization.

Not ones to back down from a fight, we chose to put it right up front, right there in the title. We know we are going to piss some of you off, we know you are going to disagree with us. We had hoped that those who do disagree would respond with coherent arguments, and the ensuing dialogue would benefit us, the opposition, and our readers.

This hasn't happened. Oh sure, we get plenty of mail, both from those who are on our side, and from those who are clearly not. Unfortunately, those who oppose us don't seem to be entering into a dialogue, but rather diatribing and disappearing. And, that's understandable. It's easy to throw a bottle through a window, and run like hell. It's infinitely harder to stand your ground, and stick to your convictions, whatever they may be.

Dawkins, Dennet, Hitchens, Harris; all have entered into great debates, and we have watched them with a smug satisfaction reserved for those who are convinced they are right. We have watched them, waiting for the snide comment, the rhetorical death blow, the deflation and destruction of the opposition's argument. These debates are important, as they serve to tease out those among us who may be afraid to come forward, not realizing that there is a whole community of like-minded people. Those debates have strengthened our base, and have swelled our numbers. Plus, there was nothing quite as entertaining as watching Hitchens decimate Dinesh Desouza.

Those debates, and the debates that are certain to come in the future, were, and are, important, yes. But, sooner or later we are going to have to shift from decimating the religious out there, and move towards educating them. We are a hated, and misunderstood, group. Those misunderstandings are what foster the misplaced beliefs about atheism that are listed above. Those misunderstandings are barring us from politics, education, journalism, and business. When was the last time you heard of anyone in government declaring that they are an atheist? My money is on Al Franken, but I'm not holding my breath.

By some on the religious right, we will always be seen as the enemy, nothing will change that. Your standard television evangelist is not going to one day come out and embrace atheism as 'an alternative lifestyle.' That is not a fight we can win. The fight we can win lay within the flock, who can change the channel, turn off the television, read a book. That is a fight we can win, but we can't win it with snide remarks and moral superiority. We win it by convincing the public that we are not the devil...something we have done a piss-poor job of doing thus far.

I don't want to be an atheist in the public perception of what that word means. I will always be absent a theology, as I'm not getting up on Sunday to go to church, or keeping holy the Sabbath. (Our show is on Sunday, so we are kinda screwed on that one.) When I say I don't want to be an atheist, I mean that I am tired of our group being a public enemy. I'm sick of hearing about uproar over our billboards, I'm sick of watching the representatives from various atheist organizations paraded on to Fox News to be attacked by the various right wing nutjobs who they seem to give microphones to. I'm sick of the public perception of atheism.

And, it is for those reasons that I don't want to be an atheist. I long for the day when the word becomes unnecessary. I long for the day when theology is a non-issue, something studied in history class, a time when we were looking for any candle flame to help us find our way in a dark filled with demons, and monsters, and fear of death. A time when we were afraid of the world, a time that has passed. We can only get there by helping those who believe to understand why we say what we say.

I don't want to be an atheist...but I have to be.
For now.

-Paul Wittmeyer