Bits and pieces, Part (n)

By Phil Plait | December 26, 2010 7:20 am

Just some quick notes for a Sunday after a big holiday:

Comments (41)

  1. Gary Ansorge

    Hope Y’All had a happy, cheerful holiday this year, full of good food and astronomical delights. Here in Georgia, we had a white xmas, with an inch or so of snow on the ground.

    Care2 is a major leftie organization but they try to be reasonable and they DO have some good points. Today, they published an article about how bad alternative “medicine” can be for the young. Reading the comments reminded me that the left is as full of rancor and stupidity as the right. I consider myself a skeptic(who wears seat belts and takes his vitamins, mainly because I dislike cooking and rarely follow a “good” diet,,,”yech! Green stuff.”). I know doctors do the best they can to be appraised of the efficacy of contemporary meds. and the pharma industry, while in the business of making money, tries to do that with drugs that really do what they’re purported to do. I believe in evidence and anyone who claims efficacy for anything, better have some good evidence to back up their claims.

    This link shows how far we have to go to encourage people to think rationally. It’s a bit discouraging to realize we’re such a minority in this world. The mountain we have to climb to enable rationality is very tall. Fortunately, it’s not INFINITELY tall,,,

    http://www.care2.com/causes/health-policy/blog/first-do-no-harm-alternative-medicine-can-be-lethal-to-kids/

    Peace and Love to Y’All.

    Gary 7
    Great list of skeptic charities. Thanks, Phil.

  2. Regarding the Salvation Army’s rule you linked to:

    For this reason such practices, if unrenounced, render a person ineligible for Salvation Army soldiership, in the same way that unrenounced heterosexual misconduct is a bar to soldiership

    If the U.S. military (the “soldiership” referenced above, I presume) actually dismantles the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and ends discrimination against homosexuals, will the SA have to rethink their position, or will they just delete that offending bit from their code?

    I always have mixed reaction to the SA. On the one hand, they do good charity work, on the other hand, they are serious proselytizers, which is their right, I suppose. Still, I always want to ask those bell ringers hanging out outside the supermarket, “What exactly are you “saving” people from, if not the wrath of your own malicious god?”

  3. @kuhnigget

    “If the U.S. military (the “soldiership” referenced above, I presume) actually dismantles the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and ends discrimination against homosexuals, will the SA have to rethink their position, or will they just delete that offending bit from their code? “The ‘soldiership’ the SA refers to has nothing to do with the US military. I believe it is what they call the adherents of the SA.

    The SA does do a lot of good charity work, however, I cannot support an organization that blatantly discriminates LGBT people.

  4. Oh no! I did not know the Salvation Army took a stand on homosexuality at all! How disappointing! They do good work, it’s true, but so do other smaller organizations that don’t promote prejudice – like local food banks for example. I’d rather not support anyone who spews that crap no matter what they do that’s good – it’s still tainted to me.

    For the record, the Christian church I go to stands firm beside our opinion that nowhere in the Bible does it say anything to support prejudice against anyone and if it says something that can be interpreted like that in the Old Testament it is merely in historical reference to how the Jewish society was set up 2,000 years ago and is not a statement on how we should live our lives in an age where we have the benefit of scientific research and knowledge. Anyone who tries to say that hate is part of religion obviously missed the point. Maybe when religion is used as a political tool or way to gain power but not for individual spirituality.

  5. @ MichaelL:

    Even rereading the quote several times as I was cutting and pasting it, I read “heterosexual” as “homosexual”.

    Heh. Guess that says a lot about where my head’s at.

    Buh-duh bump.

  6. Michael

    For a little bit of context’s sake in regards to the Salvation Army, that link points to a positional statement made in 1989, exclusively for the India “branch” of the Salvation Army. Its not really fair to vilify the organization as a whole based on that one statement.

    For comparison, the equivalent Canadian positional statement:

    http://www.salvationarmyethics.org/position-statements/gay-and-lesbian-sexuality/

    On the other hand, the American positional statement isn’t all that much better…

    http://www.salvationarmyusa.org/usn/www_usn_2.nsf/vw-dynamic-arrays/B6F3F4DF3150F5B585257434004C177D?openDocument&charset=utf-8

  7. Amazing! Thanks for pointing that site out to me, Phil. The Salvation Army will no longer get ANYTHING from me, and I will make sure all my friends know, too.

  8. Michael (6): Don’t get me wrong: I’m not trying to vilify the SA’s work as a whole. But the fact remains that the organization itself sees homosexuality as deviant behavior, and that is unacceptable to me. They may do good work in other areas, but so do a whole lot of other organizations that don’t have such homophobic attitudes.

  9. Gary Ansorge

    Found a great article about being wrong and how useful that is.

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/post.cfm?id=in-praise-of-scientific-error-2010-12-20&WT.mc_id=SA_CAT_MB_20101222

    As anyone who actually DOES science should know, laws(observations of the way the universe works, like E=MC^2) are one thing. Theories however, are subject to revision and excision. We really only KNOW something when we’ve learned we’re wrong. “WoW! THAT’S not right,,” is one of the best things we can hear because it means we’ve just eliminated one more wrong way of looking at things. THAT’S solid information. NOW we can propose another possible right way.

    ,,,and so it goes. Uncertainty is our heritage but,,,we can get close to the way things really are.

    ,,,close enough that this computer, which relies on probability on the quantum level to function so consistently that it is usable,,,99.999999999+ percent of the time.

    ,,,of course, this may be the time I hit submit and the post just disappears,,,well, SOME error is tolerable.

    Gary 7

  10. Randy

    I didn’t know that about the salvation army. As a gay man i fail to see how my preference effects my ability to stand outside ringing a bell. They have lost my donations.

    However, I can still recognize that they do a lot of good.

  11. Jason

    @Phil#8 and @Randy#10
    The doctrine in Christianity is that Sex belongs in only One context, between a man and woman Within the bounds of Marriage. Sexual activity outside of that is wrong, regardless of who is involved.
    If you see the following quote :
    ” The Army regards the origins of a homosexual orientation as a mystery and does not regard a homosexual disposition as blameworthy in itself or rectifiable at will. Nevertheless, while we are not responsible for what we are, we are accountable for what we do; and homosexual conduct, like heterosexual conduct, is controllable and may be morally evaluated therefore in the light of scriptural teaching.”

    They would treat heterosexual misconduct the same as homosexual conduct.
    Additionally the term –Phobic means that we have a phobia or an unreasoning and uncontrollable fear. To say that anyone who has an issue with homosexuality is “Homophobic” is an insulting. If we follow that anyone who has a moral objection to homosexuality is a homophobe then isn’t anyone who has issues with religion a “religophobe?” And is so fearful of religion that they cannot act rationally when confronted by it?

    I do NOT nor ever would I advocate hatred toward any group or person for what or who they are. Those who practice Hatred in the name of God do not follow What is actually taught in the Bible. Can someone please explain why objection to an Action is equal to hatred for Everyone with a group? Does this mean that if someone you know does something you don’t like you hate them?

  12. Cameron

    First, great to see BU’s going to be screening in Australia. However, it appears that it won’t be (as we call it) ‘free-to-air.’ When it does, please let us know! (Australians prefer their TV free—there’s only about a 20% subscription rate for the paid services.)

    Second, I’m an officer in the Salvation Army in .au, and we (officially) have a similar policy here. The Salvation Army is an international organisation and most of these ‘positional statements’, whilst written locally, need to be endorsed by our International Headquarters and thus don’t vary too much from country to country. Indeed, some of the wording in the Indian statement you linked to is identical to the wording in Australia.

    However (and this isn’t intended as a defence of the policy), that document was, in some ways, a bit like the ‘Don’t ask don’t tell’ policy in the US military—it’s obviously wrong now, but it was conceived as a concession to gay people. Many felt when it was written that it gave gay people too much.

    That’s still no excuse, I know. Whilst the Salvation Army couldn’t actually repeal the statement in the foreseeable future (that would require buy-in from far less tolerant countries) I think our practice in those nations that are more comfortable with homosexuality will just move away from our official position. There is a growing movement within the ranks of the Salvation Army to become ‘broader church’, so to speak. We’ve realised that ‘teh gay’ hasn’t been the end of the world outside our church walls, and we could probably manage with it inside. Let’s face it, it’s already there…

    And that is certainly the case with respect to our charity work. We try very hard to be non-discriminatory in that context. When a gay couple comes for assistance in the service I manage it wouldn’t even occur to our staff to treat them differently to a hetero couple. And if they were treated differently, there would be rather swift disciplinary action taken. We have gay people on staff who aren’t even aware of the Salvation Army’s official position. It simply doesn’t belong.

    That said, I don’t know how things play out in other countries. I can only speak for my experience in Australia.

    And finally, do you have to live in ‘Europe, north Africa, and western Asia’ to see the eclipse, or will any of them do? ;-)

  13. Joseph G

    @#4 Julia: As a Jewish person, at least by birth if not practice, I always have to ask if the people who use the Old Testament to condemn homosexuals also grow the corners of their beards out? And avoid shellfish and all non-kashrut foods? And burn any clothing that has been affected by mildew?
    If not, I say STFU :)

    Edit: Doh. I’m just realizing you were referencing the New Testament. All the same, cultural practices at the time were based on the Jewish scripture. Interestingly, the non-orthodox Jewish congregations I’ve seen have also been very receptive to GBLT members and GBLT rights issues.

  14. MacRat

    Doctor Who saves Christmas.

    But can’t salvage the Salvation Army.

  15. Joseph G

    @Cameron: And finally, do you have to live in ‘Europe, north Africa, and western Asia’ to see the eclipse, or will any of them do?
    There’s a timeshare arrangement you need to buy into – three condos, four months per year each one. Otherwise you hafta pay to see eclipses.

  16. Joseph G

    @Gary Ansorge: The comments on that page made me want to facepalm. Hard. Oh noes, the ebil Aligatoropaths are treating people with CHEMICALS!!!
    If I weren’t so lazy I’d register just so I can post a link to whatstheharm.net.

  17. If Phil’s okay with it, I’ll also provide this link to a list of three autism charities that I think are worthy. For those who have followed the vaccine-autism nonsense, please think about supporting these science-based charities.

    Oh, and as an aside, get your donation in before the end of the year if you want to get 2010 tax credit for it.

  18. @ Jason:

    Those who practice Hatred in the name of God do not follow What is actually taught in the Bible.

    Leviticus 18:22 – “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.”

    THAT is what is wrong with religion. Someone like you, who apparently holds fairly progressive attitudes (I’m assuming), gets to pick and choose which parts of your holy writ you follow and which parts you conveniently get to ignore.

    Well, sorry, but me not liking people who want to kill me because of the way I was born is a little bit different than being a phobe.

  19. Monkey

    Sorry,

    Salvation Army by name alone is enough to make me vomit in disgust. I would not give them a cent. So many better places to let your money flow towards. So many…

  20. Adrian Lopez

    @Cameron

    “They would treat heterosexual misconduct the same as homosexual conduct.”

    Except that, unlike heterosexual conduct, they see all homosexual conduct as sexual misconduct.

  21. Adrian Lopez

    Damn. That @ reply was supposed to be for Jason. Apologies.

  22. Monkey

    @Cameron

    You can quit, you know. Experience and a clear head on your shoulders would be welcomed many other places that dont make you pretend that your organization isnt a horrid little sampling of our species.

  23. Monkey

    …and, you could make your reasons for quitting known. Or, ‘should’, rather.

  24. Monkey

    @Phil

    I wrote earlier about wanting to see the asian version, and within a day or so I saw it. Both. They have been playing on repeat (10 -11pm local Taiwan time) on Discovery ever since (almost everyday). Not sure if this is a USA feed I am getting, but it is definitley playing on Taiwan airwaves with subtitles. Has been for a month.

  25. raoul duke

    Mean while in Canada we have no %&$# clue when part 3 or any others of ‘Bad Universe’ will air. This seems to be truck driver and scary river creature marathon week.

  26. Zucchi

    @11 Jason: You’re mistaken about the meaning of the suffix “-phobia”. It doesn’t necessarily mean “fear”; it can mean “strong dislike”. So, yes, somebody (like myself) who strongly dislikes religion could be called a “religiophobe”.

    I donate every month to Childreach, which works to help children in the poorest countries (education, medicine, clean water), without pushing any kind of religion.

  27. Joseph G

    @#18 Kuhnigget: To be fair, EVERYONE picks and chooses what they like from religion. Everyone. Even the people who insist vehemently that they don’t. For instance, the Pentateuch (the five books of Moses) contain, it’s widely agreed, 613 mizvot – 613 things you must do to be a “good Jew”. Six hundred and friggin thirteen!!! Is there a person on earth who manages to keep all of ‘em straight? If so, I’m sure they’re tons of fun at parties.
    And of course, Christians certainly pick and choose what they choose to follow in the old testament to a much greater degree, as I alluded to earlier. I’m just saying, I’d be much more leery of people who choose to follow that particular passage then people who just happen to follow a faith that’s based (loosely) on those texts and choose to ignore parts of them (and for good reason).
    I’m not even trying to defend religion so much as promote religious liberalism. Like I said, I believe that people who say that you “can’t pick and choose” what precepts of a religion to follow are hypocrites. Every religious person does it. That’s why we have a million sects in pretty much every faith. It’s all a matter of degrees.

    Disclaimer: I don’t claim to know what it’s like to be GBLT, and I can certainly understand having a much lower tolerance for religious nonsense when it’s used to hose hate at you, personally.

  28. @ Joseph G:

    Admittedly so. But, such picking and choosing should negate your right to make claims that include the phrase, “If people would only do what’s in the Bible,” or the million odd variants of that odious wish.

    If people led their lives based upon what was in the Bible, the world would be a hellish place, and an exceedingly contradictory one.

    PS – I don’t know what it’s like to be BLT (unless you’re talking about the sandwich), so I can only comment on the G. :)

  29. Joseph G

    Admittedly so. But, such picking and choosing should negate your right to make claims that include the phrase, “If people would only do what’s in the Bible,” or the million odd variants of that odious wish.
    Too true.
    If people led their lives based upon what was in the Bible, the world would be a hellish place, and an exceedingly contradictory one.
    I can see it now: “Incest should be between a man and a woman!”

    PS – I don’t know what it’s like to be BLT (unless you’re talking about the sandwich), so I can only comment on the G
    *lol* Sorry, about that. I was just trying to be inclusive. As in “any sexual orientation that makes bible-thumpers froth at the mouth”. I wasn’t sure if “queer” was considered inclusive (or insulting when devoid of context).

    I’m kind of uptight and legalistic about language, sometimes – When someone asks me if I’ll meet them at X time, I have to stop myself from saying something like “Well, I’ll try my best – but my car is getting kinda old, and you never know. Also, if there’s traffic I might not get there right on time, and if there’s a natural disaster, I’ll probably be preoccupied. So yes, I’ll be there, provisionally.”

  30. Messier Tidy Upper

    I heard that “Bad Universe” will air on Discovery Asia and Discovery Channel in New Zealand and Australia starting Sunday January 16 at 7:30 p.m. Just so’s you know. Check your local listings, etc. etc.

    Airing in Oz at last! Superluminous (beyond just brilliant) news.

    Except, wait a sec .. Discovery channel? Durnnit. PayTV which I don’t get.

    Sigh. If only your show was on free-to-air instead. Sigh. :-(

  31. Joseph G

    @#30 Messier: I think I’ve found a live broadcast for Discovery. The bad news is, it’s Eastern US time, but it’s better then the stuff on the Discovery Channel website (just trailers, as far as I can see)
    http://www.wwitv.com/tv_channels/b1920.htm

  32. Joseph G

    @Messier Tidy Upper:
    Lets try that again without the moderation delay
    dubyadubyadubya dot wwitv dot com/tv_channels/b1920.htm

  33. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Joseph G : Thanks. :-)

    @29. Joseph G :

    I was just trying to be inclusive. As in “any sexual orientation that makes bible-thumpers froth at the mouth”. I wasn’t sure if “queer” was considered inclusive (or insulting when devoid of context).

    A good acronymn for all the “non-hetero” sexual orientations which I’ve seen on the Slacktivist blog (& this is NOT original with me but someone very intelligent and funny there whose name / handle, alas, escapes me.) is QUILTBAG :

    Queer / Questioning
    Undecided
    Intersex
    Lesbian
    Transexual
    Bisexual
    Asexual &
    Gay.

    :-)

    Actually, my understanding from Kinsey’s (sp?) famous study – & I could, of course, be wrong here – is that human sexuality is on a “spectrum” with most people neither entirely heterosexual nor entirely homosexual but generally on a sliding scale somewhere in-between.

    As for what’s in the Bible / Torah / pretty much every single religious text around – I think its *all* pretty much a matter of *interpretation* to some degree or other.

    IMHON, FWIW, Taking such religious texts absolutely “literally” is really virtually impossible to do esp. given the issues of translation and cultural context from the ancient Israelite / slightly less ancient Roman Judean versus modern times – & claiming to do so is very silly. There are plenty of verses that really can only be taken symbolically or metaphorically or poetically if they’re to have any sane, consistent meaning at all. (For example, most of Revelations plus Noah’s Flood, Genesis, etc ..)

  34. Messier Tidy Upper

    PS. Those groups who *claim* to be taking such texts quite “literally” are usually just overlooking their own lack of doing so & own interpreting and de / re-emphasising only certain aspects. Eg. the hypocrisy “over OMG teh Gheys!” versus “Shellfish -eating = abomination, nah can’t be! Never mind swearing and wearing clothes of two materials = death penalty,” etc ..

    One example that I noted recently :

    Revelation 12:1 : “Then a great sign appeared in the sky: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.”

    From the old ‘Comic takedown of Global Warming Denial’ thread posted by the BA on the 15th of December 2010 12:00 PM & scripture via the “Brick Testament” website.

    Can you take that literally? if so what do you think the names & spectral classes do you think the twelve stars would be and how many light years in size must this “Sign Woman” be!? :-o ;-)

    It’s also worth noting that Isaac Asimov wrote a superb essay on how some aspects of the Bible suchas the parable of the Samaritan are, as he titled it, “Lost in Non-translation” because of how our understanding has shifted over time. (Asimov’s Magivc anthology – I’d cite the full details but the book is packed up in a box right now.)

    One of the key points there – To the Jews of the time, the word “Samaritan” was NOT associated with the word “good” but they were viewed as a strange, widely loathed minority.

  35. Messier Tidy Upper

    Sources via link :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/12/15/comic-takedown-of-global-warming-denial/#comment-345868

    &

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/12/15/comic-takedown-of-global-warming-denial/#comment-345841

    &

    http://www.thebricktestament.com/revelation/satan_thrown_to_earth/rv12_01.html

    & to quote some key passages from Asimov’s Lost in Non-translation essay here if that’s alright (sure hope it is!) :

    “The trouble is that the one word that is NOT translated in the Book of Ruth is the key word “Moabite,” and as long as it is not translated, the point is lost, it is lost in non-translation.

    The word Moabite [from Ruth’s tale – it also applies for the word Samaritan – ed.] really means “someone of a group that receives from us and deserves from us nothing but hatred and contempt.” How should this word be translated into a single word that means the same thing to, say, many modern Greeks? Why, “Turk.” And to many modern Turks? Why, “Greek.”

    …[Snip – ed.] … We forget the point of the parable is entirely vitiated by the common phrase “good” Samaritan for that has cast a false light on who the Samaritans were. . . To the Jews [of Jesus’ time – ed.] the Samaritans were not good. They were hated, despised, contemptible heretics with whom no good Jew would have anything to do. Again, the whole point is lost through non-translation.

    … [Snip – ed.] … The Parable of the Good Samaritan clearly teaches that there is nothing parochial in the concept “neighbor,” that you cannot confine your decency to your own group and your own kind. All mankind, right down to those those you most despise are your neighbours.”

    Source : Pages 266-270, Isaac Asimov, “Lost in Non-translation” in ‘Magic’ anthology Harper-Collins, 1996.

    I love that essay and those paragraphs & I couldn’t agree with Asimov more. There is so much we modern day readers miss out on because we fail to comprehend the context and thus frequently misunderstanding or missing the point of things completely.

    Also the priorities of Rabbi Jesus? They were mainly about looking after the poor, forgiving and being kind to other people & esp. those who are outcasts or shunned. From the writings & sayings ascribed to him, I find it totally ridiculous to think that Rabbi “Christ” was some sort of a homophobic, anti-intellectual, right-to-bear-swords nutter whose main concern or obsession involved hating teh gheys and others & so many so-called “Christians” have things rather backwards & really aren’t following the ideal they supposedly believe. Such “Religious” followers, I think, give their faith an unduly bad name. :-(

    PS. FWIW I’m agnostic believing in no established religion & also very much NOT a militant atheist either. I know there’s a heck of a lot I don’t – & may never know – in this magisteria.

  36. Messier Tidy Upper

    While we’re on quoting scripture & on a vaguely related point here, methinks, the “Christian” homophobes are also forgetting *this* part of the Bible :

    http://www.bricktestament.com/david_vs_saul/jonathan_and_david/1s20_01.html

    & esp.

    http://www.bricktestament.com/david_vs_saul/jonathan_and_david/1s20_17.html

    &

    http://www.bricktestament.com/david_vs_saul/jonathan_and_david/1s20_41b.html

    King David is, of course, one of the greatest figures in the Bible / Torah. He was also clearly bisexual. G*d didn’t seem to mind that too much. King David’s affair with Bathsheba & the consequent murder of her husband was (rightly, methinks) viewed as a much more serious matter.

    There is even the suggestion in 1 Samuel 20:42 :

    Jonathan said to David, ‘Go in peace, for we have sworn in the name of Yahweh that Yahweh will bond you and me and your descendants and my descendants forever.’

    That seems to possibly imply Divine sanction and approval of gay marriage! ;-)

    Additionally, while we know that Rabbi Jesus supposedly spent time around prostitutes (&, worse, tax-collectors) I’m not sure whether it was specified whether all those prostitutes were of the female gender. ;-)

  37. Joseph G

    @MessierTidyUpper:
    Re: QUILTBAG – heh, I like it, but I doubt I’m going to be referring to anyone that way unless I’m positive that everyone else has heard of that acronym. Being referred to as an (anything)bag is typically not polite ;)

    @#36: Bwahahaha. You’re gonna get some angry e-mails :P
    I always found it cute how tax-collectors were put into the same category as prostitutes.
    Hey, maybe the Apostles were the first Tea Party members :P

    *Googling “majesteria”*
    I learned something today :)

  38. Neil NZ

    “I heard that “Bad Universe” will air on Discovery Asia and Discovery Channel in New Zealand and Australia starting Sunday January 16 at 7:30 p.m. Just so’s you know. Check your local listings, etc. etc.”

    Thanks for the heads up Phil.

  39. flip

    Like Cameron and MTU: Annoyed that Bad Universe will be on cable in Australia, since I don’t have it. I even wrote especially to our free-to-air channel, SBS, who shows Mythbusters, hoping that they’d program the show. Now it seems even more unlikely (one, because few people would likewise make a demand and therefore force SBS to consider it; two, because of licensing)… and I *really* wanted to watch it.

  40. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Flip : I’ll make that demand / request too – I’d love to see the BA & his show on SBS or ABC Aussie TV. :-)

  41. flip

    #40, MTU

    Great! With two people asking for it, SBS is *bound* to put it on! :)

    No, seriously, the more people that write in, the better. I doubt the ABC would touch it, given their rather decidely more BBC-themed programming, but you never know!

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