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Review: Every Day is an Atheist Holiday

Every Day is an Atheist Holiday
Every Day is an Atheist Holiday by Penn Jillette
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you are put off by profanity or sexual talk, don’t even think about picking up this book of essays. Penn simply cannot go for more than two pages (on average) without the f-word or a reference to his privates and/or a sex act.

But if you can set aside your visceral reactions to the tenor of this book, it has some very interesting reflections on fatherhood, marriage, reality TV, blackmail, professional partnerships, stage magic and religion. I’d rather have a hundred Penns in Congress, turning the Congressional Record into something delivered in a plain brown wrapper, than one more Ted Cruz or Michelle Bachmann.

I’d give this book four stars if it wasn’t for the relentless profanity. To which, I’m willing to bet Penn would say F-You with a smile.

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Astronomy by Internet update – Dark Skies ISS

Armchair astronomers rejoice! I have updated my Astronomy by Internet page. The latest update introduces a new Solar System object – the Earth. 

The first project to appear here is Dark Skies ISS, a project posted by a Spanish led research team to the Crowdcrafting site, a site I wasn’t aware of until I read about on the NASA web site. 

From the project page:

Right now there are around 1,800,000 images at the Johnson Space Center database (The Gateway of the Astronauts). Around 1,200,000 images were taken aboard the ISS (date 02/20/2014). However, the number of classified images is much smaller, and there is no archive of georeferenced images. There is already a project to classify the daytime images (Image detective), but the techniques used in that project are not useful for the classification of nighttime images. The patterns on Earth are not the same during the day and night, which is why another technique is needed to classify these nighttime images.

 

Our main objective is to study light pollution that comes from cities. We want to stop the waste of energy and the destruction of the mighty ecosystem.

 

Your collaboration is really important because algorithms cannot distinguish between stars, cities, and other objects (i.e. moon). Thus, we need your help to assess the light pollution in our world!

 

For more information, please contact www.citiesatnight.org or Twitter handle: @cities4tnight.

Also you can contribute on our other apps Lost at night (find unlocated images) and NightCitiesISS(Georeference known cities).

I find Dark Skies ISS to be beautiful and sort of relaxing. And I’m contributing to mapping light pollution. A good deal for all sides. Consider giving it a whirl. If you know of other citizen/layperson science projects involving an astronomy theme, drop me a line. 

For Those Looking for Bible Verses that Support Polygamy

Recently I noticed a small jump in followers after posting Jacob the Polygamist Blessed by God. From skimming their blogs they seems to be folks with an interest in polyamory and/or polygamy/polygyny/plural marriage. Because I mostly believe in connecting information seekers with information, I want to use this blog post to point them to my series “Marriage = 1 Man/1 Woman NOT. So far there are ten posts in this category, including this one. The others are:

I’d also like to be clear about a few things. My purpose in creating this series was to debunk the natural law claims of opponents of same sex marriage. A number of religious figures, including Catholic Bishops keep making claims about how marriage has been “one man, one woman” from the beginning of time. In reality, human societies have seen a number of models for handling sexual relationships. If the natural law argument were valid, all but a few societies would have had one man/one woman marriages as the sole model for marriage. Just as practically all human societies have a visceral revulsion against incest.  But this isn’t the case. Not by a long shot.

But you don’t have to appeal to anthropology and its findings to rebut the Bishops. All you have to do is to actually open up the Bible. That’s what I did. And it’s part of the reason that I dropped out of the Catholic Church.

However, I think it would be wrong to say that the Bible unambiguously endorses polygamy. There are exactly two verses (not in all translations ) in the New Testament that COULD be interpreted to IMPLY that polygamous Christians were welcome in the church — just not as Bishops (King James Version):

Titus 1:6-9:

6 If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.

7 For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre;

8 But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate;

9 Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.

 

1 Timothy 3: 1-6:

1 This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.

2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;

3 Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;

4 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;

5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)

6 Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.

 

Looking at these verses, one could be forgiven for thinking – “If they had to specify that bishops could only have one wife, then some men in the church had more.” Maybe. But other translations render “the husband of one wife” as “married only once” which could refer to widowers or divorced men. Without knowledge of Greek and access to an early manuscript, I really can’t say.

Also, pretty much every other mention of marriage in the New Testament specifies it as one man/one woman. The Woman at the Well in John Chapter 4 had five husbands at one point, but it is clear that Jesus disapproved of this.

But just because the New Testament defines marriage as between one woman and one man is not enough reason to mandate that in civil law. I am a Christian, but I don’t believe basing law on the Bible is any better than basing it on the Koran or on any other holy scripture. Civil law ought to based on a consensus of the people moderated by genuine natural law based norms and by the idea that people should be allowed to do what they like provided it does not harm another. In sexual matters, I see consent as key and that children and animals are de facto incapable of consent.

Finally, while I respect a person’s choice to choose polyamory with other consenting adults, I don’t consider myself an advocate. If you picked up on my blog for the polygamy angle, you’re welcome to stay. Just be aware that I don’t cover this topic very often — only when I run across polygamous Bible readings at church or when some religious figure or politician insists on making the false claim that the God of the Bible set up “one man / one woman” from the very beginning. Or worse, that “All societies at all times in history have defined marriage as one man, one woman.”

If you’ve enjoyed other topics that I’ve blogged about here, you might enjoy my Tumblr feed at http://alaskanlibrarian.tumblr.com. I tend to post there more frequently.

 

Iraqi Air Strikes: Who is President Obama Kidding?

I read today that we (United States) had started up airstrikes against the so-called Caliphate of ISIS in northern Iraq. President Obama claims these strikes are to prevent genocide. While there is a religious minority in definite peril in the region, the President is kidding himself if he believes that a pure air campaign will prevent genocide. As the Rwanda Genocide showed, genocides don’t have to be carried out with artillery. They can be be carried out with machetes or many other weapons at hand that cannot be destroyed from the sky.

There are other limits to air power, particularly when deployed against insurgent groups. For more about this, I refer you to this book review of The limits of air power by Mark Clodfelter.

IF this is really about preventing a genocide, we’d need to arrange for a contiguous, defenseable safe area and ring it with troops. But I really don’t have confidence that would work either because some of the worst ethnic killing in Iraq happened in 2006-2007 when we were in occupation of the country.  We’d also need the cooperation of the Baghdad government and Turkey to insert a large enough body of troops to protect the Yazidis, something they’ve been unwilling to do in the past.

But if ISIS is really determined to exterminate the Yazidis and we stick to airstrikes, they will die. End of story.

Relying on air strikes alone isn’t the only place where the President is trying to fool someone. According to a 8/8/2014 story in the UK Guardian:

He also, repeatedly, said the Iraqi government needed to take ultimate responsibility for security within the country. “We can conduct air strikes,” he said, “but ultimately there’s not going to be an American military solution to the problem. There’s going to have to be an Iraqi solution that America and other countries support.”

This is a peculiar hope given that:

  • As a group Shia muslims (the majority partner in the Baghdad government) hate Yazidis almost as much as Sunnis do, as most Muslims believe they are devil worshippers.
  • We trained a new Iraqi army from 2005-2010 with little improvement in combat readiness.
  • As recently as June 2014, the Iraqi army was described at being at the point of collapse and a sectarian force, which was months away at best from being able to take territory back from ISIS. This is way, way too long to stop a genocide if that is ISIS’s intention.
  • Iraq’s Baghdad’s based government has been divided for months and as of a few days ago, still could not name a new prime minister. This is NOT a government capable of taking effective action.

For all of my problems with President Obama, I do respect him as an intelligent man. So I think he knows all these facts that I’ve cited above. So I find it hard believe that he’s kidding himself when he says an airstrikes only policy is a way to prevent genocide. Of course, that makes the alternative that he’s trying to fool us and I don’t like having my intelligence insulted. I didn’t like under George W. Bush and I don’t like it now.

The Guardian article cited above had another listed purpose – to protect US personnel in Northern Iraq, particularly in the Iraqi Kurdistan capital of Ibril. But here too, airstrikes are of limited utility – if our aim was to protect US personnel, we ought to be airlifting them now. For more speculation on why President Obama may be bombing Northern Iraq, see Why is Obama bombing Iraq, Really? by Juan Cole at Informed Comment. I’m not necessarily endorsing his post, but the reasons the President has given for what he says will be an extended bombing campaign just don’t make sense to me. It can’t really do what he says it is supposed to do.

Finally, a quick word to the folks who say “We should have never left Iraq.” First, we had to under the Status of Forces Agreement signed on behalf of President George W. Bush in November 2008, which stipulated:

1. All the United States Forces shall withdraw from all Iraqi territory no later than December 31, 2011.
2. All United States combat forces shall withdraw from Iraqi cities, villages, and localities no later than the time at which Iraqi Security Forces assume full responsibility for security in an Iraqi province, provided that such withdrawal is completed no later than June 30, 2009.

Efforts were made to extend this deadline, but Iraq was dead set on us leaving. Staying would have required starting a brand new war and guaranteeing resistance from the Shia majority of the Iraq. At the time, even President George W. Bush recognized such a move would be both bloody and futile.

 

Jacob the Polygamist Blessed by God

Here’s a Bible passage you can use with the next Christianist who tells you that marriage was ordained by God to be one man, one woman from the beginning of time (bolding mine):

Genesis 32:21

That night, however, Jacob arose, took his two wives, with the two maidservants and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok.24After he got them and brought them across the wadi and brought over what belonged to him,25Jacob was left there alone. Then a man* wrestled with him until the break of dawn.26When the man saw that he could not prevail over him, he struck Jacob’s hip at its socket, so that Jacob’s socket was dislocated as he wrestled with him.d27The man then said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”28“What is your name?” the man asked. He answered, “Jacob.”e29Then the man said, “You shall no longer be named Jacob, but Israel,* because you have contended with divine and human beings and have prevailed.”30Jacob then asked him, “Please tell me your name.” He answered, “Why do you ask for my name?” With that, he blessed him.31Jacob named the place Peniel,* “because I have seen God face to face,” he said, “yet my life has been spared.”f

Jacob not only had two wives, but God had no problem with it and blessed him. If marriage was really one man, one woman, since the beginning of time, God would have have blessed Jacob. At least not without insisting that Jacob dropped his second wife.

Congress Should Swap Out Areas of Interference

List of presidential appointments from 1789

Reposted from my Tumblr blog:

congressarchives:

On August 3, 1789, President George Washington sent to the Senate a list of nominees to be port collectors. The name of each nominee appear next to each position with a note on the outcome of the Senate’s vote. “Aye” is written next to each name but Benjamin Fishbourn. Fishbourn was the first presidential nominee to be rejected by the Senate, and the event marked the beginning of the custom of senatorial courtesy—a tradition which continues today.

This tradition holds that the Senate may reject a nominee who is not supported by the nominee’s home state senators. It encourages the President to engage the Senate in the “advice” part of the nomination process, as well as the “consent” part.

Nomination of Port Collectors, including the nomination of Benjamin Fishbourn, 8/3/1789, SEN1B-A1, Records of the U.S. Senate

Very early, we began the process of giving the Senate disproportionate power over Presidential appointments. While I firmly believe in Senate confirmation of Presidential appointments, the way things have evolved is that a single senator may prevent someone from being appointed at all. Then if someone manages to be appointed, a single Senator can place a hold on the nominee and prevent a vote. Other rules ensure that if a nominee ever comes to a vote, it will take 60 votes to confirm them.

This is bad. As it allows small minorities to hamstring an administration while allowing the President to deflect responsibility for his governance onto Congress.

At the same time, Congress over the years have stood by while Presidents have usurped the power to declare war and waste our national blood and treasure on conflicts where neither our freedom nor our way of life were threatened.

We would be better off if Congress were willing to hamstring the administration on war and allow simple up and down votes on nominees of the President’s chooing.

Book Review: An Appetite for Murder

An Appetite for Murder
An Appetite for Murder by Lucy Burdette
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I found this book as a result of Twitter. As a librarian and author of the Writer’s Guide to Government Information, I sometimes get authors following me.

I don’t always follow back, but @LucyBurdette‘s profile said she was an author of a series based on a food critic living in Key West Florida. I think Key West is beautiful. I also appreciate food and mysteries, so I followed her back and asked what the first book in her series was. I didn’t realize till later that she is also one of the people who write the Jungle Red Writers blog, a blog I enjoy for its friendliness, wit and food references.

An Appetite for Murder has appealing characters, plausible situations and honestly kept me guessing till the murderer was revealed. I also liked how a gay couple was worked into the script as just two more characters. One partner was a psychologist friend of the protagonist who just happened to be gay.

As you would expect from a food based mystery, there are many descriptions of food. These are done well, whether set in a restaurant or if it’s something the main character is making for her friends. As a bonus, a few of the dishes mentioned in the book have recipes at the end.

There was nothing in the story that really set my head shaking and brought me out of the story. It was a great read for a weekend and I will definitely be checking out the other books in the series.

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