Jim Downey's picture

"Yesterday, Tomorrow, and You."

I think this will be of interest to some of the folks here, though since I wrote it for my own blog and pertaining to my novel, I feel a little awkward about posting it to the front page.

Jim D.


I've mentioned previously the work of science historian James Burke. This past weekend I finished watching the last couple of episodes of his ground-breaking series Connections. Overall, you would probably enjoy watching the series, and will find a lot of chuckles over what was "high tech" in 1978 versus the reality of what we have today. But the closing bit was just stunning - it was a prediction of the need for and use of the Internet before DARPA had even begun to let the cat out of the bag. Here's the last ten minutes:

Jim Downey's picture

"It's not about necessarily about the Bible . . ."

Via PZ, news of an incident in Janesville WI a couple of weeks ago, in which a student stood up for his First Amendment rights - and so frightened the school administrators they had to take unspecified disciplinary actions. One of his classmates was so terrified that she has refused to return to the school, and her sister has likewise transferred. What horror did this student perform to cause such a ruckus?

He tore up a bible.

From the news report:

"He took the Bible and he said, 'I'm going to do this because I can. I'm going to do something that your stupid, little minds aren't going to be able to comprehend and he took the Bible and started ripping out pages."

School officials said that they know about the incident.

"We take this extremely seriously," said Dr. Karen Schulte, Janesville School District safety and security coordinator.

Jim Downey's picture

Just in case . . .

. . . you have, you know, any doubts that waterboarding is torture, I direct you to this fairly amazing first-hand account of it. From the account:

Here's what happened:

The water fills the hole in the saran wrap so that there is either water or vaccum in your mouth. The water pours into your sinuses and throat. You struggle to expel water periodically by building enough pressure in your lungs. With the saran wrap though each time I expelled water, I was able to draw in less air. Finally the lungs can no longer expel water and you begin to draw it up into your respiratory tract.

It seems that there is a point that is hardwired in us. When we draw water into our respiratory tract to this point we are no longer in control. All hell breaks loose. Instinct tells us we are dying.

I have never been more panicked in my whole life. Once your lungs are empty and collapsed and they start to draw fluid it is simply all over. You [b]know[b] you are dead and it's too late. Involuntary and total panic.

BrainArmor's picture

For god's sake, don't expect them to think

In my neck of the woods here there is a lawsuit that's been filed against a high school history teacher asserting that he makes anti-christian remarks in his classroom.

"He's only giving one side – that's not thinking critically at all," said Farnan, 16, who does not plan to attend his AP European History class again until Corbett is removed. "This might be a college-level class, but it's in high school, so he doesn't have the same rights."

I didn't realize that you have to be a college professor to have the right to foster debate.

It looks like yet another case of someone getting bent out of shape over criticism of their beliefs. I find it ironic that the kid whose parents filed the suit states "I am a strong Christian believer". If he's such a strong believer why doesn't he stay in the class and defend his views?

It's encouraging that many of the teacher's former students are coming forward in support stating that his classes promoted critical thinking. There is so little done in high to teach kids how to actually think that it's sad when someone gets into hot water for actually doing it.

Jim Downey's picture

It's all in your head.

Now and again I wonder whether I am just simply missing some critical little bit of biology, if there was a small glitch in my development that left out the ability to "sense God". You know, somewhat like how someone with color blindness suffers from a slight defect in their physiology, and is able to see most of the things that the rest of us see, but just can't make out some crucial differences that allow us to make subtle distinctions. I wonder about that.

So, it seems, does Sam Harris. From a Time article dated last Friday titled "What Your Brain Looks Like on Faith", reporting on a recent scientific paper by Harris (and others):

Brent Rasmussen's picture

The God Of The School Board

Florida State Board Of Education member Donna Callaway gets it so wrong that it's painful to read.

[link] Donna Callaway, a former middle school principal from Tallahassee, told the Florida Baptist Witness that evolution "should not be taught to the exclusion of other theories of origins of life."

She also said she hoped Christians would pray over the issue. "As a SBOE member, I want those prayers," Callaway said. "I want God to be part of this."

Evolution is not a "theory of origins of life", number one, and number two, the Christian God cannot, by law, "be a part of" the Florida State Board Of Education - unless you rescind the United States Constitution, or secede from the union.

But you've all heard this before, time and time again. It's been said, over and over, a thousand times or more. The facts are always the same; ignorant Christian creationist who does not understand what evolution is, or what science is gets elected to the school board. Then they convince other ignorant Christian creationists on the school board to "teach the (nonexistent) controversy" by reading the religious tracts put out by the Discovery Institute, WoTM, or Dr. Dino. Overworked civil-rights defenders like the ACLU and FFRF take the school board to court and win. Many indignant news stories and op-ed columns are written about the evil atheist plot to persecute innocent Christians by teaching science instead of Christian mythology in - ahem - science classes. Overwrought email chain letters get forwarded to everyone and their grandmother shouting about the nasty atheists and their evil plan to barbecue all the Christian children in the public school system for the crime of being Christian.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Things like this make me tired. It feels like we're bailing out a leaky boat with plastic beer cups. I mean, were doing something, going through the motions, making a lot of noise and fuss, but the reality of the situation is that the boat is filling up too fast. I fear that we are sinking, and that there is not a lot we can do to prevent it.

Still, we'll keep on bailing because what else can we do?

Jim Downey's picture

Just in time for the holidays.

Just in time for the holidays, comes this friendly bit of advice from your Big Brother:

As the busy holiday travel season approaches, TSA would like to help you get through the security checkpoint quickly and have a safe flight to your destination. Our Transportation Security Officers will be working around the clock to provide an efficient security process. We're asking you to become an active partner in your security experience by knowing the rules and carefully packing your carry-on bags.

Pack smart to get through faster. Keep luggage organized by layering items; this will increase visibility for the security officers. When approaching the checkpoint, be prepared.

Yes, be prepared. I recommend the little packets of KY Jelly, or the 'personal lubricant' of your choice, in order to comply with security regulations and reduce pain.


MandyU's picture

No, not Chuck Norris!!!

This might be old news to some of you, but I had no idea this was how Chuck Norris felt about bringing religion into the classroom. I'm mildly devastated. My brother conquered his fear of the ocean when he was younger by pretending he was Chuck Norris kicking the ocean's ass. That memory feels dirty now.

I guess I should be all that surprised when There is no theory of evolution. Just a list of animals Chuck Norris allows to live.

Jim Downey's picture

Such B.S.*

*As in Bad Science, Ben Goldacre's brilliant blog and column in The Guardian. If you're not familiar with his writing, you should be. And you should certainly take the time to read his recent post about homeopathic medicine. An excerpt:

And there is the rub. Because Winterson tries to tell us - like every other homeopathy fan - that for some mystical reason, which is never made entirely clear, the healing powers of homeopathic pills are special, and so their benefits cannot be tested like every other pill. This has become so deeply embedded in our culture, by an industry eager to obscure our very understanding of evidence, that even some doctors now believe it.

Enough is enough. Evidence-based medicine is beautiful, elegant, clever and, most of all, important. It is how we know what will kill or cure you. These are biblical themes, and it is ridiculous that what I am going to explain to you now is not taught in schools.

Dirk Diggler's picture

Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial

Some of you may already be licking your chops in anticipation of tomorrow's (Tuesday 11/13 8pm EST) PBS special called Judgement Day: Intelligent Design on Trial.

Others may be upset and ready to complain of bias.

I expect the program to be enlightening, educational and entertaining. As you can see from the second trailer posted, not everyone is happy about this event. The Discovery Institute is doing it's best to predispose creationist proponents towards their usual anti-science mindset.

Jim Downey's picture

And I thought *I* was insane . . .

I like hot stuff. As noted in this post, I grew a bunch of extra-hot Habanero varietals this year, and have made several batches of super-hot sauce. But even I have my limits, and know them. Unlike this twit:

Man, you gotta love dumb jocks.

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to my blog. Via MeFi.)

Jim Downey's picture

Fun with Chemistry!

OK, as noted in another thread, I like things that go boom, things that burn, all that 'rapid oxidization' stuff. Now, remember from your high school chemistry class that fun demonstration (do they still do this these days?) of what happens when you drop a piece of metallic sodium into water? Well, how about dropping 20,000 pounds of the stuff into a lake?

As someone mentioned in the MeFi thread where I came across this, it brings to mind the delightful segment from Brainiac where they played with small amounts of rubidium and cesium. Good times, good times...

Jim Downey

Jim Downey's picture

Ghost stories.

My wife passed on an item posted over on Forum Wales which I found of interest. Not saying that I "believe" or anything, but it is definitely something to take a look at. It's a short clip, and you should turn your sound up a bit:

And in the true spirit of Halloween I give you this British Car Ad that was never run:

This is a car advertisement from Great Britain. When they finished filming the ad, the film editor noticed something moving along the side of the car, like a ghostly white mist. They found out that a person had been killed a year earlier in that exact same spot.

The ad was never put on TV because of the unexplained ghostly phenomenon. Watch the front end of the car as it clears the trees in the middle of the screen and you’ll see the white mist crossing in front of the car then following it along the road….Spooky!

Is it a ghost, or is it simply mist? You decide. If you listen to the ad, you’ll even hear the cameraman whispering in the background about it near the end of the commercial.

Car Ad

Jim Downey's picture

Happy Birthday!

Why is it that I want to tag every religion-related post with "Stupid Human Tricks"?


Anyway, Happy Birthday, everyone! According to your friendly neighborhood creationists, today is Earth's 6,010th Birthday! Yay!

The really sad part? 43% of your fellow Americans (assuming you're here - the rest of the world already knows how crazy we are) basically agreed, saying the following statement was true: That God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.

So, when do we get cake? I need something to buffer the bottle of vodka I just got to help me forget this...

Jim Downey

(Via MeFi.)

Dirk Diggler's picture

"Highly Qualified" Religious Nut Appointed Family Planning Head

President Bush has appointed Susan Orr to lead what is basically the “Acting Deputy Asst. Secretary for Population Affairs” at the HHS Department, where she be responsible for U.S. contraception programs. The White House calls her “highly qualified”, they mean sufficiently religious. A look at Orr’s record shows that her strongest qualifications appear to be her rightwing credentials and endorsement of the Bush administration’s failed abstinence-only policies.

In a 2001 article in The Washington Post, Orr applauded a Bush proposal to stop requiring all health insurance plans for federal employees to cover a broad range of birth control. "We're quite pleased, because fertility is not a disease," said Orr, then an official with the Family Research Council.

Jim Downey's picture

Demography on our side?

Yes, says Sara Robinson over at Orcinus, citing a new study from the Barna Group of generational attitudes about Christianity in this country. From her excellent post:

I don't know how long they thought they were going to go on that way, all self-righteous and judgmental, blaming homosexuals and feminists for everything from 9/11 to the price of gas, ignoring the interests of the poor in favor of those of big business, and dismissing any kind of environmental stewardship as nothing more than a way to waste time until the Rapture comes. Clearly, the didn't see anything at all wrong with elevating the most spiteful and amoral among them as their national spokespeople, and rewarding them in direct proportion to the heat of their rhetoric. No, these folks were on fire (we're still not sure if it was Jesus or heartburn), and they weren't afraid to let their bilious light shine on the TV, in the streets, all the way to the White House. They did their best to set it high above the rest of the culture, where none of the rest of us could miss it if we wanted to.

Jim Downey's picture

The 700 (Rules) Club

So, what would you call me if I said that I was going to try and spend one year living my life entirely by the 285 rules set forth in the Ferengi "Rules of Acquisition"? More than a little obsessed with the Star Trek fictional universe? Maybe cashing in on the Star Trek franchise in a somewhat cynical way? Perhaps a touch insane?

Then why is it that when A. J. Jacobs decides to spend a year trying to live by the 700-some 'rules' found in the Bible, he gets a book contract and lots of press? Oh, that's right, because the Bible is considered by most people to not be a work of fiction.


Jim Downey's picture



I wrote back in May about a professional contact I had with an educational institution which was looking for information about conservatorial care for a large collection of historically significant bindings. As I said in that post:

However, when I got to the appointed meeting, it quickly became clear that in the mind of the administrators, "conservation care" meant exactly one thing: rebinding all the books to look new. To make the collection all nice and pretty, like one of those fake bookshelf sets in some office or as a movie prop.

I presented them with an alternative: preserving the original bindings in so far as possible, while making them stable and secure for future generations. I even took home several sample volumes and performed the correct conservation treatment on them, and sent them back to show how the books could be properly cared for. But I had little real hope that they would opt to take that route, since it is both more time-consuming and expensive, and they seemed so committed to the other course.

Jim Downey's picture

A short history of political theology.

Last weekend a friend sent me a link to a long piece in the New York Times titled "The Politics of God", written by Columbia University humanities professor Mark Lilla. It was a difficult week here for me, so I didn't get around to reading the full article until this morning. I recommend you do so at your first opportunity, since the meat of the thing will help you to understand a fundamental threat that we's just not the fundamental threat that the author of the piece talks about.

Jim Downey's picture

"Are you with me, Doctor Woo?*"

(*with apologies to Steely Dan)

So, a couple days ago, I was hitting some of my usual haunts, and on MeFi came across a link to something truly amazing: the most advanced personal energy system available today!

Personal energy system? Huh? Some kind of new sports drink? Maybe a reworked diet fad? Or a new way to charge your, uh, personal massagers?

Nope. They're talking Sympathetic Resonance Technology! Wow! Even the name is impressively scientifical! What is Sympathetic Resonance Technology? I'm glad you asked:

The Q-Link’s fundamental technology can be understood by imagining a tuning fork that vibrates at a certain pitch. Similarly, the Q-Link’s Sympathetic Resonant Technology™ (SRT™) is tuned to optimize the human energy system through resonance. As it interacts with your biofield, it leads to a rebalancing and restoration according to your individual needs.

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