December 15, 2010

Speciesism: Everyone is a Speciesist

Happy holidays to all the Speciesist's out there, which refers to everyone as we are all Speciesists. Yet, the term speciesist isn't often used, even though it applies universally to everyone and it's really a poorly understood and underused concept. Speciesism can be defined simply as the different treatment of between ranging species of animals.

I'll start with some common examples of speciesism, and factors that lead people to be speciesist's and talk about the problems it creates in my next post.

1. I was volunteering with an organization and they brought in people from prison to talk about some of the pitfalls that led them to be incarcerated and what it was like to live in prison. Now three prisoners were brought in and one really impressed the students and people I volunteered with. He had be 'turned around' by the book The Secret, which creates a false understanding of the power of positive thinking, but that's worthy of its own post and I'll just talk about one little thing from the book's website that he brought up. 

The guy had printed the Optimist's Creed and given a copy to everyone and said that he read it each morning and lived by it through the day. While, it isn't realistic to live up to that creed for a number of reasons, there is a speciesist reason that really amused me. One of the creeds is, "To wear a cheerful expression at all times and give a smile to every living creature I meet." 

This can't be realistically done unless one either greatly changes the definition of creature or meeting. If creature means animal than the smile would never leave your face, as anyone who took a microscope to pond water would know. Our world is absolutely filled with living creatures, and they are absolutely everywhere, in fact within the mouth that would be doing the smiling over 80 different species live.

Yet, many people have this misunderstanding and when people think of smiling at creatures they are thinking about bunnies, birds and other people...then maybe further down the line they start to think about smiling at insects and ugly creatures and possibly smiling at fish, but micro-organisms and small creatures like lice or fleas nearly never come to mind.

This shows a speciesist error, even in the definition of what an animal is.  Size is a determining factor in what makes up an animal to many people, with many people not considering about anything smaller than a mouse. This definition of animal is far far to narrow, and needs to be rectified before any issue of morality towards animals can be talked about. 

2. I was watching TV with a girl and she says something to the effect of, 'Ahhh, that's so sad when a dog is being mistreated like that (referencing the television show she was watching)', which is a totally normal and appropriate response. Probing the issue and asking what is wrong, and it was clear to her that animals shouldn't be treated like that, but then I ask her if she swats the mosquito that lands on her arm, and I got another totally normal an appropriate response. It is swatted. She than realized at that moment and perhaps for the first time, she, like the rest of us are Speciesists. 

Different animals are valued at different levels based on familiarity with the species, perceived cuteness, perceived threat, cultural/religious value, and natural fear. 

A death of a family pet is viewed as a much greater loss than the snake that is killed because it is near your house for all 5 of the reasons stated above. The typical American family knows and loves dogs and cats, they are found to be attractive to us, protect the home, and are valued culturally. While there is less natural fear for species like small cats.

Where as snakes are really on the opposite end of the spectrum in all five factors. The majority of people don't have any experience with snakes, they don't look attractive, and are potentially very dangerous. While there is also an ingrained cultural acceptance for not liking snakes.  It was also the snake that tricked Eve into eating the apple, and being called a snake is rarely taken as a compliment. Yet, the biggest reason may be a natural fear.

Psychology, eight edition, by David G. Myers, points this out on page 534, when he sates that, "We may be biologically prepared to learn some fears more quickly than others. Monkeys learn to fear snakes even by watching videotapes of monkeys reacting fearfully to a snake; but they don't learn to fear flowers when video spicing transposes the seemingly feared stimulus to a flower (Cook & Mineka, 1991). We humans quickly learn to fear snakes, spiders, and cliffs--fears that probably helped our ancestors survive. (Ohman & Mineka, 2003). But our Stone Age fears leave us unprepared for high-tech dangers-cars, electricity, bombs, and global warming--all of which are now far more dangerous (Lumsden & Wilson, 1983, McNally 1987)."

People are naturally speciesists and it's a good thing we are. There is such thing as a healthy fear of snakes and other dangerous animals, and is appropriate, yet it can also go to far. Some people might kill every snake that they see, even when they are far away or pose no threat to them. When speciesism goes to far, and some of its other problems/solutions will be the subject of my next post.

Goodbye fellow speciesists,
-the moral skeptic

December 7, 2010

A Competency Test for Government Officials Is Needed

In the recent past two examples come to mind that make it readily apparent that governmental positions may be held by people with little or no competency in the positions they hold. This isn't a US, or Canadian thing, but a systematic problem that can be easily seen in many places, but the recent example of a Canadian and American will be used.

The Canadian example is older and has circulated, dieing down recently, but it still remains in the fore-front of my mind. Gary Goodyear made headlines in 2009 when he refused to answer a question about evolution, citing religious reasons for his lack of response, and then further showed that he failed to grasp evolution when making an apology later. This would be a slight mishap for most members of government, but when it is Canada's Minister of Science and Technology it shows a major systematic failure.

Gary's background is as a former chiropractor, which isn't the best background for scientific understanding. It might be thought that a medical background would lead to someone being well versed in dealing with science, but there is often a large gap between people doing studies and the practitioner who deals with patients. Someone can treat patients as a doctor, chiropractor, or therapist and no longer be immersed in the scientific process. This situation was talked about indepthly during The Skeptics Guide to the Universes interview with Carol Tavris in episode 269.

This was shown to be the case when Canada's Science minister was asked if he believed in evolution. His response was that, "I'm not going to answer that question. I am a Christian, and I don't think anybody asking a question about my religion is appropriate."

I don't think he understood that as the Minister of Science and Technology it is necessary that he be able to talk about scientific theories. He then went further to say that,

"I do believe that just because you can't see it under a microscope doesn't mean it doesn't exist. It could mean we don't have a powerful enough microscope yet. So I'm not fussy on this business that we already know everything. ... I think we need to recognize that we don't know."

Again, I'm sure that we don't know everything, but to say that, 'Just because you can't prove that it's there doesn't mean that it isn't there' is directly opposed to any scientific view. Without any evidence to believe that something is there, it shouldn't be thought of as being there or be appealed to as being there.

Until that new microscope shows that something is indeed there the question really isn't open to guess work. Everyone recognizes that there are things we don't know, but a Mister of Science and Technology should understand the need for evidence to decide if something is really there.

Than as a follow-up to make up for his obvious blunder he came out and officially demonstrated that he didn't know what he was talking about,

“We are evolving every year, every decade. That's a fact, whether it is to the intensity of the sun, whether it is to, as a chiropractor, walking on cement versus anything else, whether it is running shoes or high heels, of course we are evolving to our environment. But that's not relevant and that is why I refused to answer the question. The interview was about our science and tech strategy, which is strong.”

Evolution isn't a process where bodies get used to doing something and pass on that knowledge to future generations. That view of the process of evolution is the Lamarckian view and it is strong version of it at that. It is a view that incorrectly describes human evolution. People aren't being genetically selected because they can better walk on cement, it's a negligible factor in human reproduction. The question is relevant and Goodyear showed even in correcting himself he couldn't understand the most important scientific theory of our time (an argument could be made for general relativity).

Goodyear is a joke as a minister of science and technology, but as sometimes happens the United States has gone and one upped Canada. This 'one-upmanship' or 'down-manship', I'm really not sure, took place when John Shimkus, while running for the chair of the council on energy, brought his bible along to testify.

He then proceeded to read Genesis 8 verse 21 and 22, which states that, "Never again will I curse the ground because of man even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood and never again will I destroy all living creatures as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease." and stated that, that was the infallible word of God and it will hold true about the earth.

I guess Mr. Shimkus really wanted to pile on the 'evidence' because he also read a second verse which came from Mathew 24 which states that, "And he will send his angles with a loud trumpet call and they will gather his elect from the four winds from one end of the heavens to the other. The earth will end only when god declares its time to be over."

Wow...that's all I can say. Even if this guy isn't elected to the head of the energy council he will still be part of the council, and will share the view that nothing drastic has to be done because God won't let the earth go to ruins, and won't destroy all living creatures. This is a tragedy, as he is someone with an ingrained  and obviously hazardous view, yet he will be helping to decide the energy policy for the most powerful nation in the free world.

Something has to be done about those type of people in government. I have no problem with people holding religious positions privately, or even having them in government when they don't have a direct bearing on the matters at hand, but there are some governmental positions that require a higher standard than others.

Take, I don't know....being the Minister of Science and Technology, for instance. That person should probably have to have an understanding of the scientific method, and some of the most prominent scientific theories. Ideally a science geek should be the minister of science and technology, just as someone with a real grasp about energy and how the world works should be a member of a council on energy, but looking at the situation now I'd take anyone who could pass a simple test.

This action takes no thought at all, just like when testing someone to show that the person has the knowledge to perform a job, government officials should have to pass a test to show that they are competent at fulfilling the position they are put in. It would save a lot of embarrassment, and would ensure that people like the above wouldn't sneak through the cracks as often.

Thanks for reading,
-the moral skeptic

November 28, 2010

Horrible Fishing Laws are Made Without Evolutionary Consideration

When fishing the ultimate goal, for most anglers, is to catch the biggest fish of the species you are fishing for. It's always exciting to reel in that lunker that you've been fighting for 10 minutes and not so much so to get a glimpse of a small fish coming in without stretching the line or diving back out of sight.

Yet, after the fight with the fish in hand, there is a question of what to do with the fish. Many people keep the biggest fish they catch as there is more meat on a larger fish. It is also more impressive to see a large fish on someones wall rather than a smaller one, for the type of people who are impressed with that sort of thing. Those are the main reason people keep bigger fish, but there is also another more subtle reason.

Size limits prohibit people from keeping the smaller fish, but they also have a more adverse effect as well. It helps create and maintain a potentially dangerous cultural belief. The belief is that it is morally wronger to keep a small fish as they, 'Haven't had a chance to live yet.'

I'm sure many people have heard this sentiment echoed when people would ask, 'Way did you keep those little fellas?' or 'Are you going to throw that little guy back?'  Questions about throwing the fish back or asking why you kept that fish are not nearly as prevalent when then fish is a larger one, then all that is asked is 'What are you going to do with it?'

Anyone who understands evolution will quickly grasp the result of such strong selective pressures, like the ones described above, have on species. Carl Sagan in his series Cosmos really put those words into reality when it talked about a type of Japanese Crab

Heikea japonica, or the Samurai Crab as it is less formally known, have been selectively pressured by fishermen to become the way they appear above. Carl explains the mythological back-story of how the crab came to be, but then he goes on to give the evolutionary explanation. 

The crabs when caught were not eaten when they looked like samurai or people, but instead are thrown back into the ocean, as an honor the the samurai killed in a battle long ago. While the crabs that didn't look as much like samurai were eaten. By doing that fishermen created the face on the back of the crab over numerous generations and selections they ensured it stayed that way.

This is the same process of forced selection for an individual characteristic that created Domesticated Silver Fox's in a famous Russian experiment, and it is the same type of selection that is currently ongoing in Canada's lakes, rivers and oceans. Through the actively seek out and eliminating the largest fish in the gene pool, it is being ensured that the smaller fish that are thrown back are the ones breeding, and passing their genes to the next generation of fish.

Both for the health of the species, and anglers delight it would be better to throw the bigger fish back. For nesting fish, it is much easier to be a larger fish to protect her eggs. Not only will her offspring have the genes to be large and more easily protect their nests, they will have a better chance of surviving to become a small fish.

Yet it doesn't stop there, as the most aggressive fish are the ones most likely to be caught, so people keeping fish will tend to lead to more passive fish in general. What fishermen in generations will be left with are smaller, slower growing, less active fish, if that's if nothing else goes wrong.

Size limits on fish don't make any sense as they currently exist, and if the government had any understanding they would actually have size limits the opposite of what they actually are, people wouldn't be able to keep as many trophy level fish as they wanted.

Limits on the number of fish caught are what are supposed to ensure that fist stay at a sustainable level and size limits are just a detriment to the whole process and limits on size are only there determining the future evolution of fish. 

A false mentality created by uninformed law is ruining the future of fishing, and weakening species.

Thanks for reading,
-the moral skeptic

November 22, 2010

Two Funerals and An Atheist: Part 3

This will  be my last post on this memory, and I'll move onto my more regular and less personal topics. The first post detailed the death and funeral of my Grandfather Charlie, while the second detailed the deathbed happenings surrounding Grandpa Allen's death. All that remains to write about are the few curious things that were said around my grandpa's wake/funeral and a choice that I made.

Grandpa Allen was dead, my second grandpa to have died in less than a week. This left my grandmother enough dessert and sandwiches for her to survive a nuclear winter and me just wanting to relax and take my mind off things by watching football. Yet it wasn't possible that day, but at least no one asked me to do any kind of bible readings. However, I was asked if I wanted to say something on behalf of the family during the funeral, I didn't answer, as I was thinking about more fundamental question.

I had been to Grandpa Charlie's funeral and felt out of place, uncomfortable, and unhappy from the onset and that was a funeral performed by a minster that was pretty laid back according to some church regulars. This minister would be less laid back and more long winded, but it wouldn't have mattered if he/she only did a 5 minute talk. What he/she would have expressed is a dogma that I don't accept, through a lack of reason for believing it. Given that it would be articulately spouted bullshit erupting from the lips it wouldn't really have mattered how long the fecal vomiting would have gone on, I didn't want to be a part of it.

Yet, I also didn't want make this funeral about me at all. This wasn't an act of protest that I wanted to be noted for, illogical belief was just something I didn't want to tastily endorse, or having tarnishing my memories as it still does for my memories of Charlie. So while I would have liked to stand up and express how much me meant to me, I wasn't willing to be a part of something I am ardently agianst. The decision was easily to make after looking at my feelings; the funeral is something that I would not go to, all that remained was to tell my family that...

As couple of days passed, it came to be the day before the wake would take place, and two days before the funeral. I was staying at Grandma's that night so she wouldn't have to be alone. It was about 8 p.m. and grandma left to take a bath and mom came down for a tea before bed, it was time I started explaining how I felt.

'I wouldn't be attending the funeral' I blurted out before explaining how I felt. She took it well, but asked if I was an atheist, butt she knew I was already, it was fairly obvious for a number of reasons. I explained the reasons that I've outlined in the previous two posts about why I wouldn't be attending, and she agreed that it was probably the best decision. Yet, she worried that Grandma might not take it as well as she did.

However, Grandma was even more understanding than anyone else. She said that it was fine, and didn't give me a shocked look or question as a response. It was arranged so that I would be there the morning of the funeral and just before it started I would slip out a side door and wait in the car. 

Yet, before the funeral there was the wake where I would shake those many hands again. Except this side of the family was much smaller and many people from my local community would be there. This was fine, although it gets a bit taxing when you have to say the same thing over and over again, especially when you don't really have too many good things to say about your current situation. I'll spare most of the details, but two incidents from the wake still stand out in my mind.

The first being what someone said to me in response to one of my stock responses. As I've written the LSAT's (the test to get into law school), and been in the process of applying, so as I was unemployed at the time when someone asked me what I was doing that is what I told them. When I went into my usual explanation of what I was currently doing and got a response that differed greatly from the, 'Ah, that's great.' it remained memorable.

An older man in his 70's or 80's came up to me and after a handshake he turned away slightly. The line to the casket wasn't really moving; it was time to make some idol small talk. He asked what relation I was to my Grandpa, and what I was currently doing. I explained to him what I stated in the previous paragraph. That's when he overtly stated that,'Well that's good but the law school test isn't as hard as the medical school test'. It was also better to be a doctor than a lawyer. All this from someone I hadn't met before, and he was telling me this at the funeral of my grandfather.

Perhaps the law school test is easier in some way, but like most people with strong opinions that they like to freely assert, he had no evidence to back up what he was saying. Although the tests results are determined by which percentile among the test takers you finish in, and not about an overall mark anyway, so the difficultly of the test a small factor in the results anyway. Either way this guy was a dick for what he said, and for saying it without any understanding of the process of the tests.

Which brings me to the other interesting memory of the wake. My brother was talking to a woman and they were talking about my grandfather, as one would expect in the setting. Yet, this conversation was a strange one. The part that I remember is when the woman said that Allen could be stubborn enough about something that it sometimes made him right. My brother and the woman laughed and nodded, seemingly to agree on the point.

Yet, I'm sure it would be agreed that stubbornness is no way to settle anything, and has no correlation with being right. Stubbornness instead is a quality that hinders being able to really look at the evidence and make an evaluation. The key is often stated as being open minded, but not so open minded that your brain falls out. Alfred Russel Wallace was so open minded that his indeed did, but there are many who error in the opposite direction, and Allen was one of those people. The quality of listening and careful evaluation was not his strong suit, and unlike at least two other people, I wouldn't celebrate it. People's faults after they die, still remain as faults, even with rose coloured glasses on.

That was all that was interesting at the wake, and as it ended it meant the next morning I would be living up to my choice of not going to the funeral. As it would turn out it went pretty smoothly. I would shake some more hands in the morning and just before it started than I walked into the hallway where they kept the coffee and tea. I exited through the door and sat in the car reading Sartre. The reading went pretty well, and so went the funeral from what I learned afterwords.

There was no regret for missing it, and no second thoughts about what I decided. A knock on the side of the car window told me it was over. My memories were persevered, free of bitterness. I was no longer a complacent supporter of religious pathological mythology. Yet, there remained the actual burial and the post funeral gluttony. They, like my Grandfather, wouldn't pass without incident.

At the burial I didn't stand near the casket and with my immediate family beside the priest, I stood far enough back that I didn't have to hear him and my aunt came to stand beside me, which I appreciated a lot. Yet, this priest was determined to have me hear him say something  so he blessed the food later.

I attended that post funeral meal and talked to a few different people. One person in particular wanted to speak with me, my Grandmother Jessie. Up to this point I had spoken with a few people and no one had mentioned my absence from the funeral, so I was starting to feel more relaxed. I was making the rounds, and talking to people, when I got to my grandma.

I gave her a hug and she asked me how I was doing. "I'm alright", I told her and then she let out a long 'ohhhh'. She then asked me where I went at the start of the funeral, and so I told her that I didn't feel that the funeral was something I wanted to be a part of and it really didn't represent my views at all. With that out of the way, she then had the obvious wonderment at why I attended her husbands funeral the week before.

With that I explained what I've explained in much greater detail in my first post of this series,  and told her that, at her husband's funeral I felt uneasy and out of place the whole time. It was the reason that I was able to make the decision not to attend the funeral of my other grandfather. I also told her that what was said at the funeral wasn't something that I had any belief in and was something I didn't want to complicity support.

Well, she looked a little taken-a-back by my candour. She quickly asked a question that still amuses me even now, "So your going to be a lawyer without Jesus in your heart?"

I can quite honestly say that I don't know exactly what my face looked like the moment I understood what she was going to say, but I'd bet I had a smile. Yes, I was going to be a lawyer without Jesus in my heart, but I chose not to answer the question. Answering that question wouldn't get me anywhere and wasn't something I wanted to get into about in front of a room of about 200 acquaintances, friends, and family members immediately after a funeral.

I instead just told her that I still loved her and that, that hadn't changed at all. She returned my sentiment and told me that she loved me as well, but also added that, "She wasn't giving up on me."

I'm sure that atheist's or agnostics that have gone through a similar situation have heard those words as well. The words that you were a lost soul in need of being saved; the type of soul that is sang about in Amazing Grace.

Well I don't need a song, personal opinions or priests to save me, I'll be humbled by the evidence that is brought before me. Show me the soul and it will save itself.

Thanks for reading,
-the moral skeptic

November 9, 2010

A Tale of Two Funerals and an Skeptical Atheist: Part 2

Well the previous post dealt with my feelings from the death of Grandpa Charlie. It ran on longer than expected so this is the second part of the story and the second death I had to deal with. Instead of being a passive observer in what was going on and being complicit, tacitly supporting the mysticism that surrounded me I took more of a stand...but I'm getting ahead of myself .

When my last post ended I was just leaving the after funeral family gathering based around snacks, cakes, caffeinated beverages: a smorgasbord of artificial togetherness. Other family's may have been brought closer together by an event like this, but I don't feel that was the case with this unfortunate passing.

So my family drove home, tired and emotionally drained. I went to bed to lay down and quickly found myself asleep and then awoken. The phone rang, something urgent had come up an hour into my after funeral slumber. Mom and Dad were driving to the hospital, it appeared that Grandpa Allen was having some difficulty, his lungs had filled with fluid again. I sat at home with my brother and a close family friend. We sat waiting for the inevitable phone call telling us to come to the hospital and tell him our good-byes.

We didn't have to wait long, as soon as my parents got to the hospital it was apparent that this would be last night of his life. Grandpa Allen would die early in the morning of his 51st wedding anniversary, a fact that would only be remembered afterwords. He would be surrounded by family and friends, but I would not be among them. 

The three of us drove to the hospital in a surreal state. How do you say your good-byes to someone full of morphine, struggling to breath and who has no waking consciousness? It is a hallow self serving good-bye, but at least it grants a little closure.

We arrived and walked with heavy steps to the evaluator that would lead us to the 10th floor and a hallway to a room that had been emptied for us. The walk took only a couple minutes, but it felt much longer. There was a nervous energy that filled me, it was like I was excited to be there, but I didn't know why and still can't really make sense of it.

In the room were Grandma, Mom, Dad and pale man breathing loudly and fighting for each breath. It was 9 P.M. and for the next three hours were filled with many tears, tissue boxes, and stories of a man who would soon cease to be.

The stories were great. I learned, laughed and cried. An uncle showed up an hour later and brought back all the emotion that had somewhat eased with time. Doctors came in and out and kept the morphine flowing, and all the while we remembered and celebrated the better times. This was a proper sending out.

Of course I had to ignore a few statements about how he was going to a 'better place', or how Allen was dying  because he couldn't let Charlie beat him to heaven and that they will both be 'up there' laughing at us. I understood not only that that's what they think happens when someone dies, but also it is how they are able to cope with an awful situation. Knowing and thinking about that, left comments lacking the usual sting of annoyance they usually held.

Yet, as the minutes turned into hours, and the tears faded, and so to did the stories. All that remained was my Grandpa Allen gasping, struggling to breath despite the oxygen that was being pumped into his nose. With each minute that passed I had a greater appreciation for what was going on. I had said my good-byes, reminisced about Allen, and cried my tears. All that remained was waiting for him to die. The more I thought about it the more morbid it seemed, why sit and watch the person you loved die, what good does it do?

I was the only one that left, everyone else stayed, staring at the upcoming car crash. The car ride hope brought little solace, but I was able to relax a little more now that I wasn't watching, waiting for someone to die. Laying in bed I couldn't sleep, and just listened to music. After a few hours my family came home, everything was over, and I could now rest my tired eyes.

Part three, will talk about the funeral and the days after.

Thanks for reading,
-the moral skeptic

October 28, 2010

A Tale of Two Funerals and an Skeptical Atheist

While, with my last post I briefly mentioned that there had been a couple deaths in my immediate family, I didn't really talk about them at all. I was saving it all for one post that will be a lot more intimate then my other posts (two parts). Now, while some of the specific memories have faded a few have stood out and those are the ones that I will talk about here.

In the past couple of weeks both my Grandpa's have passed away, and while they weren't in the most healthy of conditions, the sad fact remains that I will never get to see or enjoy being with them again, except in the memories that I can only roughly piece together. This is one time where I did wish the mind worked more like a video camera, because the assumptions my mind makes in the memories only takes me further away from them.

I guess a chronological order is the best way to deal with everything I'll have to say, but I'll have to provide a little context for everything to make sense. For anyone who reads my blog or noticed the big red A on the side bar they probably realized that I'm an atheist, but this post will leave no doubts of that. While, my personal atheism may have been slightly understated, my skepticism surrounding issues that have no evidence or where the evidence points agianst has been loud and upfront.

Thus I will begin with the death of Grandpa Charlie. Now the death itself, while a sad occasion and unfortunate circumstance, it was better then what he was enduring in his day to day life. So for that I reason I wasn't too saddened by the passing. My brother flew home, and my fathers brothers/sisters got together to make the necessary arrangements.

It was during this process that it was suggested that I could read a passage. I pretty sure could could guess the source of the passage, but I don't think they would have liked the verses that I would have picked out if they really forced me to read.

These are courtesy of Dumb Shit the Bible Says:

"So we boiled my son, and did eat him: and I said unto her on the next day, Give thy son, that we may eat him: and she hath hid her son."
— 2 Kings 6:29

So why not boil Grandpa up and make some soup for the masses? or How about?

"From there Elisha went up to Bethel. While he was on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him. 'Go up, baldhead,' they shouted, 'go up, baldhead!'"

"The prophet turned and saw them, and he cursed them in the name of the LORD. Then two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the children to pieces."
— 2 Kings 2:23-24
Good thing my Grandpa had all his hair or the she-bears might have came to the funeral, but I could also go with the always classic. 

"And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished."

"Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money."
— Exodus 21:20-21

Not that I really would read those at a funeral, I wouldn't want to take the emphasis away from the person who is being remembered. That being said, I did flatly refused to read anything from the bible and didn't want to really participate in a religious ceremony, as I personally don't want to endorse or complicity endorse any religion as they cherish counter-intuitive beliefs that go agianst evidence and reason.

So I didn't have to read anything, and the wake went fine. Lots of hand shaking, while hearing how much I look like this uncle, that cousin, and even a few more distant relatives. Nothing really to eventful happened until the next day.

The day of the funeral came and I had mixed emotions, I knew that what was going to take place was something I didn't believe in. Not only that, I also knew there would also be lecturing and different varieties of thumping the bible, but I'd couldn't recall going to a funeral before so I wasn't exactly sure what was in store for me.

We gathered at 9 in the morning at the funeral home and shook a few more hands that weren't able to make it the day before. Then everyone who wasn't part of the very immediate family were ushered out and a older lady in a white robe came in. She made some small talk, then said a prayer and there was a moment of silence. During which everyone put there head down, bowed and closed their eyes. I bowed my head too, with the respect and appropriateness that the situation called for.

Family, by family we were ushered into the funeral home's chapel. My family was first, but there was just enough of us so that I could hide in anonymity in the corner of the next row. I sat there with the family of my dads brother and watched as the chapel slowly filled up.

Then it started. 45 minutes of singing, dancing and clapping for Jesus. I was called a sheep and told that Charlie would now be living with God. The lasting memories of the person's life took a backseat to the supposed spiritual journey that had been taking place. I could not sing Amazing Grace, because unlike the other wretched people I hadn't been lost, nor was I blind to what was going on.

My eyes were all to open. Instead of the sadness of the occasion, I felt the unease of being different than everyone else, and the bitterness of being preached at left a sour taste in my mouth for the remained of the day. I didn't say much as we drove to the graveyard, but I knew that, that would be the last funeral service of that kind I would be apart of. Where was the celebration of who the person was? What had they accomplished? All that took it's place was some lady talking who had no idea who he was, yet she was smiling the whole time. She could smile and tell me what happened after death, but so could my 5 year old cousin, and at least he would have had some insight from spending a Christmas with the man before.

I said little the whole day, and knew that I was the only one who had any of those kind of feelings. I couldn't stomach the sandwiches, crackers and desserts. The commonality that exists between families and the need to find out what someone else is doing because they are related to you never really appealed to me anyway, so for the most part I stood alone and thought. 

Yet, this was only be beginning....part two will tell the rest of my story.

Thanks for reading,
-the moral skeptic

October 5, 2010

The Results of a Poll About Theft in the Workplace and Job Interviews

I'm back after a long break due to two deaths in my intimidate family. Those deaths could be foreseen in taking place, but even then it is hard to prepare for it actually happening. I have some experiences surrounding those events that I will talk about in my next post, but I first wanted to take down my poll and start a new one which I talked about before.

When I first started the poll I wasn't sure how many votes it would get, and my site traffic was a fair bit lower than it currently is. I was interested and did a blog post on how people would answer a specific job interview question that a couple of my friends ran into. It was the prefect opportunity for my first poll.

Before I talk about the results I'll give some background information from the American Society of Employers

1. "The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that 75% of all employees steal at least once, and that half of these steal again ...and again. The Chamber also reports that one of every three business failures are the direct result of employee theft."

2. "The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports that $50 billion dollars are lost annually due to employee theft and fraud. Also reported by The U.S. Chamber of Commerce - 20% of all businesses fail due to internal theft and fraud."

3. "In employee surveys conducted by academics and other specialists, as many as 43% of workers interviewed admitted stealing from their employers."

With that 75% number in mind as a rough estimate let's break down the 143 votes. The assuredly skewed results of the poll were that 34 % of people have never stolen anything and would say that at  a job interview while 32% would have stolen from their workplace in the past and admitted in doing so. Leaving 4 % to not have stolen, yet state that they had and 28% to have stolen in the past and lie about doing so. I'll look at each of these answers and expand on them with some reasoning about the result.

So if asked in the situation of a job interview if you had stolen from a previous employer, 50 people (34% of voters) would never have stolen anything from the workplace and would tell their prospective employer that they hadn't stolen anything. Now I know a follow-up poll should be, "If asked on a blog poll about stealing from the workplace would you lie about it?", because whenever asking questions about morality or moral situations I don't think everyone is completely honest and I don't blame anyone for their lack of honesty. If you start admitting to random polls that you have stolen, then you might be inclined to embrace it and admit in less anonymous ways that you have stolen.

This 'I don't want to admit anything that may make people think different of me mentality' can be best seen in the sexual polls about homosexual experiences. An interview with Gary Gates of The Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy flushes this idea out when he is asked about the amount of gay people within the total population. He can't answer with great certainty because the answer rests somewhat on how the question is asked.

When people are asked directly in a poll if they are Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual the results show a much lower total than if the survey asked if the person has had attractions to people of the same sex, or has had sexual encounters with people of the same sex. So people can be attracted to members of the same sex or have same sex relations and not identify themselves as Bisexual, Gay or Lesbian.

This finding isn't an exception, it's the norm. The most recent in-depth study that will be in the Journal of Sexual Medicine notes the anomaly that, "While about 7 percent of adult women and 8 percent of men identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual, the proportion of individuals who have had same-gender sex at some point in their lives is higher. For example, 15 percent of the men aged 50-59 said they had received oral sex from another man at some point."

Those results have a history that can be traced back to the studies of Alfred Kinsley his reports in Sexuality and the Human Male and Sexuality and the Human Female. The problem made Kinsley want to create a scale that ranged from completely homosexual to completely heterosexual instead of having that gap of people who engage in homosexual acts, but don't consider themselves bisexual or homosexual. 

In the same way that people can have sexual relations with a member of the same sex on a semi-regular basis and not identify themselves as Bi-sexual, I think people can have taken items from a workplace and not consider it stealing. With a sample size of just myself I can say that most of the people I have worked with at some point have taken something from the workplace and believe the actual number of people who have never taken anything from the workplace to be lower than the reported 34% of the poll, perhaps much lower.

National Retail Security Survey Report

The next most popular choice was having stolen from a previous workplace and admitting that they had stolen to the interviewer.  46 people for 32 % of the respondents would answer this way and would almost certainly, in my mind, pass up any chance of actually getting the job. These people would put honesty and integrity over the value of the job, but they would have been the same people willing to steal from the workplace...what a strange group of people. Apparently there are a lot of people who can say, 'I'm a thief, but I'm no liar!' I personally thought the number of people who would steal from a workplace and would be willing to admit it would be much lower. This remains an interesting surprise.

The only way I could account for this higher than anticipated percentage would be to posit that a persons belief in their own character isn't dependant on past actions. This speculation means that people view themselves as honest people and to avoid cognitive dissonance they answer a poll question in the most honest way they could, admitting their past actions, but keeping their view of themselves as currently an honest person intact.

Which brings up in third answer which I thought would be the most popular. 41 people or 28 % of respondents were people who had stolen something from the workplace in the past and would tell a job interviewer that they hadn't. These are the people who understand the context of the question, as Robert Mcnamara did in The Fog of War when he was asked about summer jobs. People who answered this way don't have the virtue of being able to answer the question the ideal way honestly, but they knew what the 'correct answer' was and gave it despite it not being an honest answer. I don't have much more to say about this group, except that they are obviously thinking about the implications of the question and responding to the pressures of those implications.

This brings up the last group, who would never have stolen anything from the workplace, but, like my friend, would have said that they had stolen in the past. 6 people for 4% would be in this extreme minority. They, like myself, would have witnessed almost everyone they know taking something from work in the past, and then thought that it didn't seem reasonable or likely that they hadn't taken something either. Worried about looking like a lair, they lie! They say they had stolen when they hadn't.

These people understand the context, the overall goal to get the job, but they misidentify what the 'correct' answer is. They identify themselves as people who have never stolen from work (which as the sexual studies show may or may not be the case), but are willing to lie to get a job.

In total only 32% of people would lie about what they had done leaving the overwhelming majority to either not have to lie, to have lied in answering this poll or to be honest about their past. These results show the value of asking this type of moral question in a job interview, as it will inform you of what many people have stolen in the past and could eliminate as much as 36% of people right off the bat, if you were adverse to hiring anyone that would admit to having stolen something in the past.

The poll also shows an employee theft rate of 60%, 15% lower than the estimate of the U.S Chamber of Commerce, which would also be in line with the understanding of a person can steal, but not have considered themselves to have stolen.

While eliminating potential employees in such a manner would then leave you with liars or people who hadn't stolen, it would still be an effective question, much more effective and revealing then I originally thought.

Thanks for reading,
-the moral skeptic

September 23, 2010

Oil Spill Takes Flase Blame for Dead Zones

I've been doing a fair amount of reading and I noticed an article on Technorati, and felt that I had to respond to it. For that reason I put up my response on Technorati so, this article first published as Oil Spill Takes Flase Blame for Dead Zones on Technorati. Now on to what troubled me. 

I've written about dead zones (1, 2) and have been learning about them through reviewing different web articles. Recently, I read two articles and felt I had to respond to a false implication they both promoted.

In the blog post, 'Not a Road: is BP to Blame for This Massive Fish Kill?' and on Technorati the article, 'Is This BP's Mess, or Not?' an implication is not so subtlety made that BP is responsible for dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico that are killing fish. This is utter nonsense.

Oil spills don't cause dead zones; they are caused by agricultural run-off creating an algae bloom.  While the oil spill has been speculated to have made the dead zones worse then they have historically been, there is yet be be any real evidence to show that speculation is true.

So writing an article claiming that BP can take 100% of the blame for a dead zone, while making no effort to talk about the root cause, agricultural run off, is not only lazy, it's irresponsible.

The worst part of the two articles is their conclusion where they both say, "For the record: there is no proof (yet) that the BP oil spill is to blame for this particular fish kill, but no matter what the cause, it’s Grade-A nightmare fuel – and I, for one, can’t think of a more ringing endorsement for alternative fuels than photos like these [Pictured Below]."
This picture has been featured to prompt surprise when it is noted this isn't a road, but a group of dead crabs.
Well, for the record, even if the oil spill made the dead zones worse, the dead zones still are the major problem that killed the fish. In no way are the pictures a ringing endorsement for alternative fuels. In fact, those pictures would be a ringing endorsement against some alternative fuels, due to the increased farming that would be needed to provide bio-fuels would cause more dead zones like the ones pictured above.

What those pictures really are, is a ringing endorsement for more environmental awareness and better farming methods. I believe that both of those writers had their hearts in the right place, but just simply overstated the implications they heard from a news story that they both used for a source (it even corrects its stance) without doing any background research.

The BP oil spill has be a horrible event, with many horror stories attached to it; it doesn't need to be exaggerated. It fact, its exaggeration in taking the blame for dead zones will only allow the root cause to continue without being considered.

Thanks for reading,

-the moral skeptic

September 17, 2010

What The Hell is Going on in Africa?

This photo was taken from a video which was too graphic to be linked.

For anyone who read my post, I advise rereading it. I did some editing and it is more intelligible than it was previously. I'll have to look over my work better than I did before, and now have someone reading over posts before they are submitted. Anyway, onto the crazy shit that is going on in Africa.

Africa is a continent in need of some serious skepticism. I'm not sure they are ready to accept any, but there is a real need. I know this post will be a harsh generalization and I'm alright with that. Not everyone in Africa is guilty of what will be stated below, but too many people are, far too many.

A couple years ago, I was unaware of almost anything that happened in Africa, but then I started hearing about penis shrinking sorcerers and lynchings. Needless to say this was interesting enough to pique my interest. Apparently, mass penis shrinking delusions (Known as Koro) originated in Asian nations and has spread, becoming prolific enough to be included in the 4th edition of the DSM.

I found the proposed definition of a Koro on the American Journal of Psychiatry online and it says that, "Koro [is], a culture-specific disorder consisting of complaints of genital retraction and fear of death associated with genital retraction, has been recognized in Asian cultures in single cases and in epidemic proportions."

The use of the word epidemic is not an exaggeration on the part of the people who proposed the definition. Due, to the weird, interesting and risque nature of Koro it has been pretty well covered and a little searching online turns up quite a few different incidents. If your interested here is one from the Congo where 13 people were arrested while there are others that took place in Benin, Ghana, and Nigeria that were on a similar scale.

While the areas are different the incidents have the same pattern.

1. There is an underlying belief in sorcery and the specific understanding that penis, and even female breasts or vaginas can be shrunk. The belief is so prevalent that people can been seen, discretely, or not so discretely walking while also holding on to their gender specific private areas.

2. This mindset leads people to be worried and suspecting, and it only seems to take one person yelling, "My penis has been stolen!" to bring together a mob to attempt to find the person responsible.

3. The mob then forms and looks for anyone that fits their conception of what a sorcerer would be. In the Congo an apparent sign was someone wearing gold rings.

4. The mob then lynches the person who had been accused which often results in that person being put to death through any of a variety of horrible methods. This usually happens before the authorities can get a lid on the situation, and it has resulted in quite a few deaths.

In short many people in African countries live in fear of their genitals being shrunken, and will kill anyone accused of the act on the spot.

After learning about Koro's I could tell you that Africans are also blaming invisible telepathic bigfeet for the lack of rain during times of drought and it would seem reasonable. The fact is that it just continues to get stranger and more violent from this point on.

The second problem that I recently learn about in Africa is what is happening to albinos. ABC news gives a good summery of what it is like to be an albino in Africa through the story of 14 year old Joyce Charles  of Tanzania. Now it would be hard enough to be so different in a tolerant environment, but that is far from what Tanzania is as "In Tanzania, like most of sub-Saharan Africa, people with the hereditary condition are often thought of as having supernatural powers, which makes them a target." As you could see with what happens to people who are perceived to have the power of penis shrinking, being thought to have supernatural powers in Africa isn't a good thing.

Witch-doctors want the body parts because they are believed to increase the powers of the potions they make. Aljareeza tells the story of a man trying to sell an albino's body for 263,000 dollars and while this was at the high end of what someone would pay according to the other numbers I saw it does shows the demand for those unfortunate people.  Joyce experienced that craving first hand when the body part hunters came for her. She, like other albino people in Africa, now have to be accompanied at all times.

Joyce escaped, but many, like the 20 mentioned in the story weren't so lucky. The BBC notes how in Burundi a six year old's body was found without her arms, legs and head. That unfortunate person was the 6th albino to be found that way between September and November of 2008. Aljareeza gives further information notifying that at least 53 people have been killed there in the last 3 years. While, according to the Red Cross, at minimum 56 albino people have been killed in the last two years between the two nations of Tanzania and Burundi .

The trade seems to be expanding as well as two kids in Swaziland were targeted and killed in front of a group of people for their body parts. Still those numbers don't reflect the true scope of the problem because it doesn't take into account those who have merely been left mutilated after losing limbs to the albino body part trade.

Those two deplorable trends are part of a third larger trend, the African Witch Hunt. Now, when people hear the term Witch Hunt they think of the early modern period, Inquisition and Salem where about 100,000 people were killed in a period of a few hundred years. It's a black mark in history that many thought was over with, but it has begun again in Africa where the persecution of albinos and the worry of Koro are a symptom of a larger system of destructive beliefs. The scale is on the same level as the early modern hunts, but they are taking place in a much different way.

Historically there was the trial for witches, today they skip the trial, and receive only its sentence. That sentence often amounts to death or exile. The International Humanist and Ethical Union describes Africa as a a place where, "The belief in witchcraft is strong, common and widespread." The IHEU also tells of many of the tragic events, but I'd I think the many individual news stories do a better job of telling the true story.

The Huffington Post tells the story of Gambian authorities rounding up 1000 'witches' who were then forced to drink an unknown hallucinogenic concoction. People are being rounded up and held for 3-5 days, and some of the people are beaten to the point of near death, two of which have died. This all took place after the president of Gambia's aunt died to what he believed to be witchcraft.  

The Epoch Times concentrates on the treatment of child witches in Nigeria where the lucky are kicked out of their homes and the unlucky, "Are doused in acid baths, buried alive or poisoned, others are chained and tortured in churches in order to extract 'confessions' of sorcery." UNICEF is noted as saying the instances of witchcraft persecution is on the rise. It then gives a few specific examples and shows the role of the church as people exploiting and promoting the situation.

The BBC tells about that same treatment of children going on in the Congo. It then tells the story of two parents who are sure that their two children are witches, and a sect that has confirmed that 230 children that have been brought to them were witches. It also notes that 14 000 are estimated to have been thrown out of their homes after being thought by family members to be witches. 

And the stories just keep coming, 39 homes burnt in a witch-hunt in South Africa, 5 people in Kenya are set on fire, 843 killed in the Congo gives a small flavor to what has been going on. United Nations, "Officials tracking the problem said deaths ran into at least tens of thousands, and beatings, deprivation of property and banishment and isolation from community life meant victims of "witch frenzy" ran into millions." The scale of the past witch hunt may have already been well surpassed, and little is being done to change it. 

How could such a huge problem affecting a whole continent be so roundly unknown? People are dying at a much greater rate than the historical great witch hunt, but the older one still casts it's shadow over the recent on-going's. 

When someone asks, 'Whats the problem with a little superstition or belief in magic?' this is the answer. A false belief makes other false beliefs seem plausible and there can be a slippery slope that slides a 'witch' into the fire.

Thanks for reading,
-the moral skeptic.

September 14, 2010

Belief in God Compared to Ethical Beliefs

I'll have to apologize for this post taking longer than it should have as I was facing a number of problems. My internet has been his and miss, with more misses than hits over the past few days and I've been busy doing a few other things. Anyway, I'm sure this post will be enough to remedy those in need of a good skeptical healing.

Previously, I compared the belief in God to personal taste and concluded that the two beliefs weren't alike, but it got me to thinking that perhaps belief in God arises like a belief in what is ethical. I got this idea through contemplating David Hume's understanding of morality.

To give brief outline of Hume's Ethics I'll quote a few lines from A Treatise of Human Nature.

"For before reason can perceive this turpitude, the turpitude must exist; and consequently is independent of the decisions of our reason, and is their object more properly than their effect." Hume then uses this to show that if reason isn't a part of morality and it is something natural. Than it is present in the actions of animals and they should be held in account to the same moral standard as people. Hume does this through saying, "Their want of sufficient degree of reason may hinder them from perceiving the duties and obligations of morality, but can never hinder the duties from existing; since they must exist in order to their being perceiv'd."

Then comes Hume second part, which is more applicable to the notion of God. His idea is that morality doesn't exist in actions or acts, but in the viewers mind.

Hume states that, "Take any action allow'd to be vicious: Willful murder, for instance. Examine it in all lights, and see if you can find that matter of fact, or real existence, which you call vice. In which-ever way you take it, you find only certain passions, motives, volitions, and thoughts. There is no other matter of fact in the case. the vice entirely escapes you, as long as you consider the object. You can never find it, till you turn your reflexion into your own breast, and find a sentiment of disapprobation, which arises in you, towards the action."

No matter where you look for he moral part of an action, it can never be found, and it is only when  you look internally at yourself that morality begins to appear. 

"So that when you pronounce any action or character to be vicious, you mean nothing, but that from the constitution of your nature you have a feeling or sentiment of blame from the contemplation of it. Vice and virtue, therefore, may be compar'd to sounds, colours, heat and cold, which, according to modern philosophy, are not qualities in objects, but perceptions in the mind."

Morality then is a perception of the mind, which Hume will call a sentiment. 

"It maintains that morality is determined by sentiment. It defines virtue to be whatever mental actions or qualities fives to a spectator the pleasing sentiment of approbation; and vice the contrary."

This is more like how people understand God. They look at different complexities and come to an understanding that is based on sentiment and exists solely in the view of the spectator. So when a person looks at the sky, stars, or ocean and get a feeling that God did this, it is based on personal sentiment.

While this is all hearsay because I can't demonstrate that this is how people come to an understanding of how God works, it works functionally. Just as Hume showed with morals, God can't be found in any individual thing. A person instead needs to look inside themselves to finally understand where God is.

Take, for instance, someone who looks at the the ocean and sees God in it. In what part of the ocean are they seeing the god part? Where is god among the ocean is God? God is only found in the minds perception of the ocean. 

So while God didn't create and cannot be found in the ocean, the mind of the person can still none-the-less attribute it's occurrence as proof of God's handiwork. This in no way proves that God created the ocean. It is as much proof as someone having the perception that homosexuality is wrong proves that homosexuality is actually wrong. It is a completely circular understanding. It is so far removed from proof or even evidence that it doesn't even impact how plausible God is.

This analogy works in another way as well, it shows the black and white nature of both decisions. When someone finds an action to be moral or immoral in their mind, there is no room for any gray area; An action is either viewed as immoral or moral. This is the same with the view of God. No one expresses the view that there is a 50% chance that god is responsible for the creation of the earth. There is a great confidence in the answer when it is given.

So there you have it, the best analogy for the belief in God is comparing it to Hume's description of Ethics.

Thanks for reading,
-the moral skeptic

September 4, 2010

What is a Jubilee? Why does it Matter?

I came across something I have never heard of before when I was reading through the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe's forum. What I had never heard before was a term, a Jubilee, or specifically, a 'Crab Jubilee'/'Shrimp Jubilee'. The only time I heard the word Jubilee previous to this was when people were referring to the crappy X-men character that could shoot energy plasmids out of her hands. This new use had me pretty curious, and it proved to be even more interesting than I could have imagined.

The first information I came across was a well written, but quirky story entitled, "Breathless Jubilee" by Kevin Bay. The only thing more interesting than the Jubilee description might be Kevin Bay himself. The story starts with Kevin being woken up early in the morning by a phone call from an eccentric friend who says, "...Wake up! Crab Walk! Crab Walk!"

Kevin, like myself, had no idea what this meant, but woke up and joined his friend that morning anyway. They drove to the Chesapeake Bay and it was "There, he [His friend] said, droves of crabs were scuttling out of the water onto the shore as if led by some sort of Pied Piper intent on making seafood bisque." When they got to the Bay they were met by many people with nets standing in the water, but they were too late, the crabs were no longer running ashore, but instead into the depths.

Then Kevin's story takes a more personal turn. He drops out of medical school to become a worker at a fish market and tries to find out what happened that day at the Chesapeake Bay. What he finds is that,

"A jubilee, I discovered, is an event once thought to be endemic to Mobile Bay in Alabama. There, it is an odd summer phenomenon where rapid depletion of oxygen in the water forces a mass migration of all sorts of bottom dwellers to the shoreline. It happens only at night when the bay becomes a sort of temporary dead zone. Thousands of crabs have been seen marching out of the water, blowing bubbles as they try to respire. Flounder pass their upper gill flaps above the water’s surface trying to gather oxygen. Stingrays pile up on the beach like so many Frisbees washed ashore. And the eels bat their heads about on land, lapping at the air, trying to drink it in to survive. But then, when the sun rises, all of these creatures return to the depths from whence they came."

That's a pretty incredible description, but that is what a Jubilee is and looks like. It may not be a full explanation, that I will get to later, but it is accurate in its simplicity. What it really shows is vividly the animals literally throwing themselves out of their homes in an attempt to breathe.

He does give a more technical explanation after that, but that's less interesting than when he tries to experience the Jubilee first hand, via pillow smothering.

Now I'm not sure what would bring someone to want to experience the lack of oxygen first-hand, even reading the description gave me an uneasy feeling, but that is what Kevin thought he needed to do. I don't recommend anyone to do that, or think that it is in anyway needed.

A better account of the history and details of the Chesapeake Jubilee comes from the Chesapeake Bay Journal and Dr. Kent Mountford.  Kent spends a lot of time describing how plentiful a source food the Bay has historically been so the true tragedy of today can be seen. As a Canadian, I see this issue like the collapse of the Cod fishing industry on the East Coast. They both were sad events that should have been seen coming, in which seemed like an inexhaustible food source completely collapsed.

The start of the true collapse is pinpointed by Mountford when tropical storm Agnes went through the region and really put a lot of stress on the aquatic inhabitants. It was after that storm that the local authorities really started to pay attention to the ongoings of the Bay. Through that the first map of the oxygen-deprived summer area was mapped and that areas related to agricultural nutrients was convincingly made. This tracking has shown, "The growth of this huge 'dead zone' each year [and] has become one of the bellwethers for the Chesapeake's decline."

The situation happens as,

"A large shock of runoff nutrients results in widespread plankton blooms, which decay and settle beneath the Bay's stratified layer. Next comes hot weather, the solar and thermal reactor that cooks these products and consumes millions of pounds of life-giving oxygen. Offshore winds sweep oxygenated surface waters away from the coast. The Bay seeks to maintain its surface level in equilibrium (like sloshing in a disturbed bathtub) and replaces the blown away water with deeper-in this case anoxic-water that flows up along the shallow shelving bottom until it fills the void. The result is a barrier of oxygen-poor water completely inundating and trapping resident organisms."

The areas of oxygen deserts in the water continue to grow, the most famous of which is the dead zone around the Gulf of Mexico, and kill many creatures, yet Jubilee's and dead zones get less coverage then ocean pirating. These two stories talk about the what's and how's, but there doesn't seem to be any questions relating any solution. In fact, the Skeptical Environmentalist (page 201) goes so far to say that, "In this respect, euthrophication [the depletion of oxygen in water] is the price we let some marine organisms pay for our success in feeding humanity, while maintaining large, forested habitats."

I know there are tradeoffs to be made, but the world's oceans seem to always get the worst part of those trade-offs and it is only after a collapse that any substantial changes are made. Could you see this happening to bunnies or deer and people not being up in arms about it? When it happens to fish and aquatic creatures people just don't seem to care.

Thanks for reading,
-the moral skeptic

August 31, 2010

Plastic to Oil for Real?

Hey, this is another short article that I posted first on Technorati and can be found at Is Plastic-to-Oil for Real?  It is nice to have an editor besides myself, but the limited subject matter and length restrictions are the trade-off. For that reason I'll have some longer posts that will be available only on my blog. So enough with that and onto the true subject matter.

As you may or may not be aware, there is a video going around about a Japanese man who has created a machine that can turn garbage plastic into oil.The video can be seen on Youtube and at first glace it reminded me of the Eternal Cycle of Free Energy 2010 Using Salt Water video that was popular a while ago.

There does seem to be a great difference between these two videos though. The Eternal Cycle of Free Energy is just a video made to entice people to waste money on numerous products based on fuel cells and easy ways to make different chemical fuels from

The machine itself probably works in doing what it advertises, separating the hydrogen and oxygen, but it can be guaranteed that it doesn't do so for free or for a net energy gain. The water doesn't separate itself into hydrogen and oxygen; it takes some input of energy to do so, and as the second law of thermodynamics tells us, energy put in will always result in less energy out. There is always a net loss in energy transfer; often this is in the heat that is given off.

That has been the issue that has plagued perpetual motion machines and the reason why free energy doesn't exist. Which brings up the second video, which isn't trying to offer a free lunch. What it is offering is to take yesterday's leftovers and turn them into steak. The only solid information I could find on the Japanese plastic-to-oil machine were from Big Think and Our World 2.0, but numerous people have blogged about it and it seems to just be making the news rounds now.

Both pages note that plastic waste has a high energy value and that value has begun to be captured. Number 2, 3 and 4 plastics can now be put in a machine to create oil that can be used just like regular oil. To top that off, it does it for "20 cents’ worth" of electricity.

Just like the free energy idea, it seems too good to be true, but unlike the other video, it holds up to scrutiny and doesn't violate any physical laws. In fact, Blest isn't the only company with a machine that is able to turn plastic waste to oil.

The Envion Oil Generator does exactly the same thing, but it may not be as efficient. It turns plastic into oil for less than $10 a barrel, so the days of throwing plastic into the trash or burning it might be quickly running out. These are the encouraging breakthroughs that the environment needs and in fact they are so groundbreaking that it creates some hard work to determine the scams from the real progress.

Thanks for reading,
-the moral skeptic

August 28, 2010

The False Tag-line of the Last Exorcism

I've been looking into expanding my writing and subject matter, so for that reason this article was first published as The False Tag-line of the Last Exorcism on Technorati. The articles there are a little shorter, but I thought it was another good outlet to do a slightly different type of writing, while still maintaining an intellectual and skeptical subject matter. Thanks for putting up with that.

The new movie The Last Exorcism has the tag line, "The bible is filled with Demons, if you believe in God than you believe in the Devil." This is an interesting argument that a lot of people would make, but I disagree with.

As usual there are a few things I have to detail before I get into arguing why that isn't the case. For the sake of this discussion I'm going to use the strictly Christian biblical sense of God, the devil, demons and demonic possession. Now I think that there is enough contradiction within the biblical belief of these terms to really create the reasonable ability to say that belief in the bible doesn't mean belief in a Devil or in demonic possession.

It might have been noticed that I have linked the idea of the Devil to demons and demonic possession and it could seem like I am shifting the argument to a different meaning than the tag line of the movie intended, but that is not the case. The tag line is trying to create the premise to make an Exorcism believable, due to the biblical belief in God and the Devil, so that doesn't change the meaning of what is being argued.

The main point of contention I have is that God is omnipotent and can do whatever he likes. Job 1:6-2:10  demonstrates that standard and so does Matthew 19:26. In the book of Job it is God who is in control the whole time, and Satan does his bidding (aka follows God's plan), while in Matthew it is declared by Jesus that, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

This creates a situation where everything is subject to God's plan or mercy, so if a person was to think that God's plan didn't involve demons or Satan they wouldn't have to exist.  This opens up the existence of demons and Satan to be testable in empirical ways, to look for God's plan ourselves. So the existence of Satan and demons, while shown to exist in the past in different biblical texts, is still contingent on what you think God's plan is, because God, the all powerful, could have banished them from existence. To say that belief in God necessitates belief in the Devil or demons is to deny Gods omnipotence over the universe.  

The best way to see if Demons or Satan still exist is to look for solid evidence of their existence, and so far I haven't came across anything that could reasonably be referred to as real evidence. Through the lack of evidence and the unknown nature of the inter workings of Gods plan, the tag line for The Last Exorcism is false. A person can believe in God and still should be skeptical about the existence of demons and Satan.