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“A Place for your stuff” – a quickie

February 10, 2009

One of my favorite George Carlin bits is the one where he talks about his “stuff” (For those of you who haven’t heard it, watch this.  NSFW, BTW. For language).

Well, just like George, I’m always looking for a place to put my stuff, in this case – skeptical podcasts.  For a few years now, I’ve kept an html file with the ones I listen to saved on my desktop.  Hi-tech, I know.  Since I haven’t graduated to the level of uber-geek that many of you have (using iTunes), I just used this page to organize my downloads.  I even made it my start page for awhile.

This weekend I attended the first ever Atlanta Skepticamp.  It was an evening and a day of local skeptics giving talks on subjects ranging from Theater Superstitions to Neural Plasticity.  I was impressed not only with how diverse a group of presenters we had, but how ridiculously smart the audience was.  Our local folks are awesome!

Beat that Colorado!

Friday evening there was a joint podcast with Derek and Swoopy from Skepticality and John and David from American Freethought.   At one point, Swoopy commented that she was surprised no one had created a directory of skeptical podcasts.  72 hours later, here it is:

Skeptcast.com

Yes it is plain and ugly (sorry Phlebas).  Yes I did it in a blog generator (WordPress).  Let’s face it, the design isn’t going to win any webbies (or “A” webby, for that matter).

But that’s not why I created it.  I did that because: 1.) I’ve been extremely lazy about updating this blog and felt a little guilty when all these people at skepticamp were doing so much for skepticism; 2.) I suck at design.  I (use to) write code for a living, not make things pretty and finally 3.) I’m cheap.  WordPress hosts it for free.

For now, I really want to limit the site to just skeptical podcasts, at least on the main page.  That might evolve over time, though.  If you have suggestions for podcasts for me to include (or remove) please do so here.

For now, well I gotta go finish season one of Battlestar Galactia.

-J

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Only Thing We Have To Fear Is Fear Itself

August 23, 2008

Imagine the scene:

With seemingly out of control inflation and unemployment figures; facing bleak real estate and stock markets; saddled by war debt and a tarnished global reputation, the newly-elected president, a Harvard graduate, former attorney who served as a Democratic State Senator steps up to the podium to give his inaugural address:

I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impel. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

Of course by now you realize I’m not talking about a potential future speech by Barack Obama, I’m talking about the January 1933 speech given by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. His first of four, a feat no President has or ever will repeat.

He certainly had his detractors – called both a warmonger and a fascist. It has been said that his economic policies actually prolonged The Great Depression by infringing upon Adam Smith’s notion of The Invisible Hand. And ok, sure, today his numerous calls to the divine and asking for the “blessing of God” later in the speech would have the ACLU filing a separation of church and state lawsuit faster than you can say Flying Spaghetti Monster.

But despite his political and philisophical shortcomings, I see in FDR’s speech a call for critical thinking:

This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today.

And he channels Thomas Paine with

Restoration calls, however, not for changes in ethics alone. This Nation asks for action, and action now.

So what action am I alluding to? Thinking critically in the face of fear. Do you have friends who are afraid to have their children vaccinated? Show them articles like this.  We all have a relative who doesn’t trust doctors and seeks out so-called alternative medicine.  What can it hurt, right?  Think pseudoscience does no harm? Take a look here.

Of course you can’t just preach at them.

While talking to Dr G tonight about what I hope to do with this blog, she told me about a valuable lesson she learned while running for office. Her strategy to win started with discussing solutions to issues at hand in the same way she always had – with her closest friends.  Initial polling showed of course, that she already had their votes. The eureka moment came when she realized that she had to convince the remaining 99.9% of her constituents to support her.  And while her personal circle adored her (as do I, Doc), to win the election she had to reach the masses on their own terms with their own language.

We cannot change the way people think overnight, we must be patient yet diligent, persuasive, yet gentle. A century and a half before FDR, even Thomas Paine knew he had to speak the language of his audience.

Thanks to The Bad Astronomer, WhatsTheHarm.net and orDover for writing what they write, fighting what they fight and inspiring so much in me. And of course, to Dr G.

She did win her High School Student Council Election, BTW.

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What an Arse!

August 22, 2008

Of late, banter with my friend The Skepbitch – the Cunning Linguist herself – has revolved around an obsessive-compulsive behavior of mine.  Though I’m straying into new territory by revealing myself, here goes:

For some odd reason I have this awful affinity for alliteration.  As in Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.

Some people step over cracks, I repeat first consonant sounds in phrases.

(See, I knew this blog would somehow be cathartic and therefore much cheaper than counseling!)

Today she posted a funny-assed article about the meaning of the phrase Half-Assed. Please read it, but remember – she’s really smart.  And has a PhD in LINGUISTICS. So don’t feel bad if, like me, you have to use wikipedia to be sure of the meaning of some of the words.  No complaints here, though.  I like when a woman teaches me new words.  Brings me back to first grade and Mrs. Teal.

Ahh…Mrs. Teal, with her beautiful bee-hive bouffant …err..coiffe.

Wait, back to Karen –  I’m really not sure which impresses me more: the fact that she knows so many eloquent-ass phrases or that she knows so many eloquent ass-phrases.

Anyway, I couldn’t resist an alliterative admiration addendum (see what I mean?). I had to leave a comment.

Alas, I’m such a jerk.

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No doubt about this one

August 18, 2008

In my last post I equated withholding proper psychological treatment from a disturbed child and actively cultivating their delusions with child abuse.  Some might say this is a stretch.

Well not this one.

It seems Ria Ramkissoon’s son Javon didn’t want to say “amen” after a prayer.  This was a sign of disrespect that Ria felt needed to be remedied.  If her child wasn’t going to obey her and show respect for their cult, I mean religion, then he just wasn’t going to be allowed to eat.

For two days.

Did I mention that little Javon was 18 months old?  Gee, imagine that. A toddler who doesn’t do exactly what they are told!  When Javon died, Ria sought help from other members who prayed for a message from god in the form of a resurrection.

It didn’t happen.

Instead Ria stuffed her son’s body into a suitcase with mothballs and dryer sheets.  The group left the suitcase outside of their Philadelphia house when they relocated to New York.  Ria’s attorney now says that the group she belonged to was a cult .  Ya’ think so there, Sherlock? He claims she was brainwashed and not responsible for her actions.

What tripe.

Religious extremists don’t just come in the form of the Taliban, or crash airplanes into buildings.  It isn’t just suicide bombers and dictators with WMD’s that we should worry about.  This child was starved to death by his mother because of her radical beliefs, fueled by a manipulative cult of quacks.

I’m disgusted.

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Child Abuse?

August 18, 2008

Let’s say your child’s behavior undergoes some changes.  They are restless, withdrawn and they spend little or no time with their friends.  You’re maybe worried they’re on drugs, but then they tell you “I See Dead People”.  Unless your kid is Haley Joel Osment, you get them psychological help IMMEDIATELY, right?.  Ok so maybe Haley Joel Osment’s parent’s should have suspected drug use, but I digress.

According to a new show on A&E entitled Psychic Kids, we should help these troubled children understand and cope with their “gifts”.  Now to be fair, I haven’t watched any episodes yet, but just clicking through the episode guide is enough to make my blood boil.  At best, these kids are being exploited in the name of making a buck off the current popularity of paranormal “reality” shows; at worst, these children are being denied proper care.   The adults in their lives, including the so-called professionals are, by allowing their continued indulgence in these delusions, preventing these kids from getting better.  This is akin to letting a child with peanut allergies continue to eat PB&J sandwiches!

Even M. Night Shyamalan‘s fictional mother in the movie got it right – Bruce Willis’ character was a child psychologist after all.

This is a perfect example of how bad information can lead to people, in this case children, getting hurt.  I’m going to watch this show and hopefully talk to some experts about this – Stay tuned

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Hello, world indeed!

August 18, 2008

daunt·ing [ dáwnting ]

disheartening: likely to discourage, intimidate, or frighten somebody

That pretty much sums up how I feel at the moment.  As in creating this blog is daunting.  I’m staring at an empty page with no idea what to write, uncertain if I can summon up the ideas, let alone the wordsmithing required to place them down on…uhh…my keyboard.

Hmmmm…

Still staring back at me. It’s not gonna go away.

I read a great comment by Wil Wheaton on his blog that essentially said “Just start writing!” and fix it later.  His point being that it is much easier to fix problems on a full page than it is to fill up a blank page.  But Wil, what if my whole page turns out to be crap?  What if I turn out pages of crap?  Ahh. There goes that nasty fear, that intimidation, that daunting-ness.  Hearing Dr G say “you’re writing in passive voice”!

But what is fear?  In this case, I guess it would be that I get horrible comments criticizing my writing, my style or my facts.  Worse yet, what if no one even reads this?  Ok, ok, I have a little writer’s anxiety.  So where do these fears come from?

The unknown.

I’ve never written for an audience before, so I have no idea what to expect.  A bit of fear is natural, I suppose.  That’s kinda of why I wanted to write to begin with – to take away people’s fear.  Provide people with facts and hopefully they won’t be afraid.  But providing information alone isn’t enough.  Each of us should carry around with us what the late Carl Sagan called a “baloney detection kit“.   What does it mean?  I’m not going to begin a discussion on critical thinking, partly because it is late, but mostly because there are lots of good sources on it.

Am I being naive?  Probably.  Can I make a difference?  I hope so.  Look, I have no idea where this is going to lead except hopefully, to the truth.  At least the truth as we can know it.  Whether it be print media, television, radio, the internet or even <shudder> at school, the public is fed a lot of wrong information.  Information on everything from global warming to stem cell research.  From alternative energy to alternative medicine.

Knowing what to listen to and more importantly HOW to listen certainly can be a daunting task.

Thanks for reading TheBIOT.

Joe