Goose the Blog 2.0

"Oh, ha! Sarcasm: The last refuge of sons of bitches!"


Frigga/Freya's Day atheist roundup

by John at 9/30/2005 10:48:00 AM

Here are a couple of interesting articles on religiousity and atheism:

Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies1
In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion in the prosperous democracies (Figures 1-9). The most theistic prosperous democracy, the U.S., is exceptional, but not in the manner Franklin predicted. The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so, and almost always scores poorly. The view of the U.S. as a “shining city on the hill” to the rest of the world is falsified when it comes to basic measures of societal health. Youth suicide is an exception to the general trend because there is not a significant relationship between it and religious or secular factors. No democracy is known to have combined strong religiosity and popular denial of evolution with high rates of societal health. Higher rates of non-theism and acceptance of human evolution usually correlate with lower rates of dysfunction, and the least theistic nations are usually the least dysfunctional. None of the strongly secularized, pro-evolution democracies is experiencing high levels of measurable dysfunction. In some cases the highly religious U.S. is an outlier in terms of societal dysfunction from less theistic but otherwise socially comparable secular developing democracies. In other cases, the correlations are strongly graded, sometimes outstandingly so.

If the data showed that the U.S. enjoyed higher rates of societal health than the more secular, pro-evolution democracies, then the opinion that popular belief in a creator is strongly beneficial to national cultures would be supported. Although they are by no means utopias, the populations of secular democracies are clearly able to govern themselves and maintain societal cohesion. Indeed, the data examined in this study demonstrates that only the more secular, pro-evolution democracies have, for the first time in history, come closest to achieving practical “cultures of life” that feature low rates of lethal crime, juvenile-adult mortality, sex related dysfunction, and even abortion. The least theistic secular developing democracies such as Japan, France, and Scandinavia have been most successful in these regards. The non-religious, pro-evolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator. The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted. Contradicting these conclusions requires demonstrating a positive link between theism and societal conditions in the first world with a similarly large body of data - a doubtful possibility in view of the observable trends.

The Vagaries of Religious Experience
Our ability to find and embrace the most rewarding view of the circumstances that befall us is nothing short of remarkable, which is why people adapt so quickly and so well to almost every form of tragedy and trauma. When people lose someone they love, they feel sad — but research shows that very few become chronically depressed, and most experience only low levels of short-lived distress. More than half of all Americans experience a traumatic event such as rape, physical assault, or natural disaster, but very few ever require professional assistance. As a leading group of trauma researchers recently noted, "Resilience is often the most commonly observed outcome trajectory following exposure to a potentially traumatic event." Indeed, a significant portion of those who survive major traumas not only do well, but claim that their lives were enhanced by the experience.

Fine. But what does any of this have to do with belief in God? As it turns out, most people do not know that their brains are designed to find and hold on to the most rewarding view of things. Most of the business brains do they do quietly, in the background, offstage, where we can't observe it. As such, we are surprised when experiences we once feared and avoided turn out to be much less awful than we had anticipated, and we are deeply surprised when they turn out to be blessings in disguise. Who knew that widowhood or divorce would be an opportunity to meet the partner of our dreams? Who knew that a heart attack or a prison sentence would lead us to refocus our lives and concentrate on the things that matter? And who knew — when we were making that agonizing decision between the Honda and the Mazda, between Cincinnati and Chicago, between the ballpark and the ballet or the asparagus and the artichoke — that this one would turn out be so obviously better than that?

Surprises such as these are curious events, and curious events beg for explanation. The proper explanation is that we have brains that avidly pursue the most rewarding view of things. The other explanation is providence. If there is a God who watches over us, who guides our hand when we are uncertain, who leads us to places we might not otherwise go, then unanticipated good fortune makes perfect sense. Things turn out for the best because someone who knows what is best for us is making them turn out that way.


1. Long time readers of GtB might remember "hell is other robots" in which a Federal Reserve study that purported to show that belief in Hell correlated to higher per capita GDP was debunked. The original article has subsequently been retracted and highly modified, about which G. S. Paul writes: "Events surrounding this study were peculiar. Placed in a Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis publication, the data plots were later apologetically withdrawn by Kliesen and Schmid."


by John at 9/30/2005 09:06:00 AM

Hola, amigos. How does it hang? I know it's been a while since I last rapped at ya, but I've been busier than a cop in a donut shop, fixing up my old lady's laptop after Windows XP decided to crap out and flying out to some dumb town in upstate New York 'cause the The Man said so.

All that trouble got me thinking, and I've started to look for a new computer to replace my trusty, custom-painted, nearly four-year-old Athlon Thunderbird linux box.

Sad but true.

I want something small and cool, and most important, quiet. I've been considering a ShuttlePC (so I could keep running linux) but I am also seriously thinking of a Mac Mini (although, I think I will regret using OSX - have you heard that upgrades to OSX aren't free?).

Anyway, to the point of this post. While looking for reviews of the Mac Mini, I found this subtle satire.

The Mini has got some built-in software for basic computer functions, but it can’t do many common things as well as its grown-up brothers in the Windows world can. The little things can add up to big frustration for someone who might accidentally buy a Mini expecting it to be just like Windows. For example, there is no Outlook Express for email, but Apple includes a program called Mail, which is like a stripped-down email client that can’t execute scripts or open attachments without user intervention. Personally I find it annoying, but if someone doesn’t depend on emailing their coworkers vbscripts like I do, they might be able to get by with it. Secondly and possibly even more glaringly, there is no antivirus program shipped with the Mac. In today’s climate of non-stop worms, trojans and viruses, releasing a computer with no virus removal software is irresponsible on the part of Apple. The OS X comes with some system maintenance utilities, but essentials such as a defragmenter or a registry cleaner are notably absent. I would expect a Mini to get really slow and unstable within a couple months if you can’t perform any routine maintenance tasks on it.

If you like, read the whole thing.


baby beatdown!

by John at 9/26/2005 01:16:00 PM

In which I reach a new low in the obliquely relevant mangled quote category, and get stomped by Elias.

"Please Elias, don't hurt 'em!"

P.S. Sorry for no posts lately, I just haven't had anything to say.

P.P.S. Did you notice that the twelve GtB headlines for the month of September-so-far have featured six exclamation points?


Nerd Alert!

by Wendy at 9/20/2005 08:53:00 AM

OK, I'm a total geek, but I really want to go to this:

"Video Games Live features music from the world's most popular video games performed by top orchestras and choirs across North America, combined with explosive video segments from each of the games, lasers and lights to create an exceptional, immersive entertainment experience"



by John at 9/19/2005 07:37:00 AM

Pirate Riddles for Sophisticates (from McSweeney's)



by John at 9/16/2005 07:30:00 AM

That's Rev. Dr. B. to you!

Last night I was ordained by the Universal Life Church. I've got my certificate right here.
The Universal Life Church has sent your application for ordination from ULC MONASTERY in Tucson, Arizona to Modesto, California. Providing that you filled out the form properly with your legal first and last name, it will be approved and entered into the International Database of the Ministry of the Church, whose numbers are in excess of 20 million ordained ministers worldwide

It feels good to be a holy man1. I now have powerful magic, but with great power comes great responsibility:
The Universal Life Church has only two tenets (beliefs/doctrine):

• to promote freedom of religion and
• to do that which is right.

It is the responsibility of the individual to determine what is right as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others and is within the law.

I was already doing that! Anyway, check out my new superpowers:
As a minister with the ULC, its own denomination, you are granted the following rights:

• To perform marriages within any US state, following the rules laid out by the state in which you wish to perform said marriage.
• To perform funerals, baptisms, last rites or any other sort of legal ceremony or ritual you wish to perform, except circumcision.
• To start a church of your own, be it a bricks and mortar building or on the internet.
• To absolve others of their sins as you have been absolved of yours.

Absolve sin! That's probably going to be my favorite one. Who wants to go first? If you have considered your actions and sincerely desire to improve in the future, let me know in the comments below and I'll fix you up with some old-fashioned absolving, easy on the penance. (If you are DIY-er, you can absolve your own sin on the internet.)

That marriage thing might come in handy, too (Nudge, nudge, Amy and Bill2).


1. Yes, I'm still an atheist, but I'm not a heathen!

2. Washington RCW 26.04.050.

Who may solemnize.

The following named officers and persons, active or retired, are hereby authorized to solemnize marriages, to wit: Justices of the supreme court, judges of the court of appeals, judges of the superior courts, superior court commissioners,
any regularly licensed or ordained minister or any priest of any church or religious denomination, and judges of courts of limited jurisdiction as defined in RCW 3.02.010.


ruff! ruff!

by John at 9/15/2005 01:00:00 PM

You know what I blame this on the breakdown of? Society.*

Massachusetts Lawmakers Reject Bid to Stop Same-Sex Marriages
Constitutional Amendment Is Defeated in 157 to 39 Vote

BOSTON, Sept. 14 -- Amid a pep-rally atmosphere, Massachusetts legislators on Wednesday overwhelmingly rejected an attempt to halt same-sex marriages here -- showing how quickly gay nuptials have moved from being a court-ordered imposition to a powerful political cause.

By a vote of 157 to 39, members of the House and the Senate meeting together voted down a proposed constitutional amendment that would have eliminated the same-sex marriages legalized two years ago and replaced them with "civil unions" for gay couples.


Since the first one on May 17, 2004, more than 6,100 gay couples have wed, accounting for about 17 percent of all the state's weddings during that period.

Each one made the idea of same-sex marriage more acceptable, observers say.

The differences were noticed by politicians, who say they started getting more letters in favor of the marriages, and by public-opinion pollsters, who noted in March that 56 percent of state residents believed same-sex marriages should be allowed.

"It's one of those areas of politics where people have become accustomed to something that was once radical," said Julian E. Zelizer, a history professor at Boston University. "It's just normative at this point."


* That's sarcasm, folks.


Book of the Month Discussion

by MarkJumblie at 9/14/2005 12:51:00 AM

Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution

Does the author bridge the gap?

I'm reading it right now. Most of the reviews on Amazon are good, but some are damning.


pointless, incessant

by John at 9/13/2005 07:55:00 AM

“I had my own blog for a while, but I decided to go back to just pointless, incessant barking.”


sensory overload!

by John at 9/10/2005 11:28:00 AM

With Elias carefully strapped into the learning device, his fragile neurons are stimulated into sensory overload!


30 second book reviews: has it been that long? edition

by John at 9/08/2005 07:25:00 AM

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed - Jared Diamond
This is a good book with a lot of interesting information. As you probably know, it catalogues the collapse of societies, from Easter Island to Rwanda to the Greenland vikings. Diamond composes of checklist of basic causes and checks off the appropriate ones in each case. Of course, there is the required application of his theories on societal collapse to our world and our society. He's enough of an optimist to note several cases where societies avoided failing (which I guess provides him with ammunition to support the declaration that failure is a choice), and provides several prescriptive remedies for us to think about. I started reading this at the beginning of May and only finished more than three months later. It sat unread on my nightstand for great stretches of time, a faithful support for the TiVo remote. It is not a tough read, and it is not as repetitious as Guns, Germs, and Steel feels toward the end. It's just that I encountered one or two major, uh, interruptions over the last few months, and I didn't have the time or energy to concentrate on a detail-rich book like this one.

Accelerando - Charles Stross
If you are like me, you are a fan of post-human and/or singularity fiction. This is one of those things. Actually, it starts in the early 21st century (right... about... now!) and follows the adventures of the Macx family as they instigate and cope with the problems of the post-human future. The book was assembled from several previously published short stories (I think each chapter was a story?) but there exists a continuous narrative anyway. There is a "voiceover" at major jumps to describe to the reader what has changed. I sort of enjoyed these more than the actual chapters. Anyway, it's pretty good, but it gets a little weaker toward the end. I think if you aren't already familiar with many of the conceits of singularity fiction, a lot of this story won't make much sense.
Available as a free e-book!

Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town - Cory Doctorow
A*'s father is a mountain and his mother is a washing machine. His brother B* sees the future, C* is an island, and D* is a psychopath. E*, F*, and G*? They are Russian Dolls. Now A*, a young, semi-retired successful businessman, lives in Toronto and is setting up to write a book. Pretty soon, his odd past comes back to haunt him. This urban fantasy is a different sort of story for Doctorow, but we meet a few characters and themes that seem familiar from his other work. I'll be honest - this is a weird book. I liked it. One problem is that there is too much technology proselytizing that has, to my thinking, little to do with the actual plot. It's sort of interesting (I'm a nerd), but it feels like spillover from the author's other job at the EFF and it's sort of just taking up pages.
Available as a free e-book!

Starfish - Peter Watts
Here's my tagline for the movie version of this novel: "You don't have to be crazy to work here, but it helps!" "Here" is on the Juan de Fuca Ridge, 9 kilometers beneath the ocean's surface, at a geothermal power station. The employees are mechanically and biologically engineered to survive 300 atmospheres of hydrostatic pressure, no light, and no air. Early on, we learn that the dangerous and claustrophobic working and living conditions entail that the emotionally damaged and sociopathic make the best employees. The book starts out as a dark character study as we are exposed to Lenie Clarke and her fellow "Rifters" but it doesn't end up that way (I'm trying hard not to give anything away). This was a good story and I enjoyed reading it. I thought that author's writing style took a little getting used to, but the novel itself is tight.
Available as a free e-book!

Maelstrom - Peter Watts
This is the sequel (2 of 4) to Starfish. I can't say what it is about without giving away the first book, but Clarke is now out of the ocean and making her way across North America to her childhood home. In this book we get a vivid picture of Clarke's world, strained to near breaking by overpopulation and global warming. Another good story. I'm not sure I have the energy for the next two, and frankly, I'm satisfied with the ending of this one. Anyway, we'll see what happens next.
Available as a free e-book!

Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth - Andrew Smith
After the death of Pete Conrad in a motorcycle accident, Smith sets out to interview the nine Apollo moonwalkers who are still alive. In his interviews, Smith focuses on discovering how the astronauts were changed by their trip to the moon, and what the trip meant to them. And while the interviews are fascinating (I was born too late to appreciate the Apollo program while it was happening, but I was obsessed with it in the last few years of the seventies, as the program's crazy glory faded and it became clear that we were probably never going back to the moon) Smith's own meditations on the waning years of the sixties and his own life are equally interesting. There are probably better books about the history of the Apollo program out there, but I thought this one was damn good.

Wildside - Stephen Gould
This is a tightly written story about a young man who discovers a gateway to another earth inhabited by Ice Age mammals and, apparently, no other humans at all. He hatches a plot to get rich, and invites his friends along to help. The story sticks to a plot that wouldn't be out of place in a Heinlein juvenile from 50 years ago, but it kept my attention all day. This is fun reading for an old fogey like me, but I bet I would've liked it even more if I was still fifteen.


like Peter Parker

by John at 9/06/2005 07:49:00 PM

With Great Power Comes Little Else - from beyond space and time, the Medium Lobster once again sets us straight.


flood round up

by John at 9/02/2005 07:54:00 AM

Locals Officials Criticize Federal Government Over Response

Survivors Complain About Lack of Help

When Government Is 'Good'

"It turns out that our individual striving goes on within a web of social protections that we take for granted until they disappear. We rely on each other more than we know. The rich, the middle class and the poor -- all of us -- bank on law, government, collective action and public goods more than we ever want to admit. The dreaded word "infrastructure" puts people to sleep at city council meetings and congressional hearings. But when publicly built infrastructure -- those levees that held for so many years -- breaks down, we realize that the things that seem boring and not worth thinking about are essential."

A Can't-Do Government

"So America, once famous for its can-do attitude, now has a can't-do government that makes excuses instead of doing its job. And while it makes those excuses, Americans are dying."



by John at 9/01/2005 06:57:00 PM

Forget the lies.

Can we impeach Bush and the rest of his administration for gross incompetence and criminal negligence? They had four years to prepare for just this kind of disaster, a disaster predicted by their own FEMA in 2001, and placed in the top three largest and most likely catastrophic events to occur in the United States. Yet, here's what George Bush had to say this morning:

"I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees."

Still playing CYA. Inexcusable. A bumbling rich boy who never had to take responsibility for anything in his entire life. He is unfit to serve this nation.

How can I not be angry? How can you? Embrace it and start kicking some ass.

Hide my face in my hands, shame wells in my throat,
My comfortable existence is reduced
To a shallow, meaningless party.
Seems that when some innocents die
All we can offer them is the pages of a magazine.
Too many cameras and not enough food
This is what we've seen.