QuarkNet 2010: Day 4

Today we built a very important part of the cloud chamber apparatus: the magnetometer.  This instrument will allow us to measure the strength of the magnetic field on the surface of our plate where the cosmic rays will be detected.

It's important to know the strength of the magnetic field so that we can calculate the momentum of the particles.  The greater the magnetic field strength, the more the charged particles will curve.

The construction of this apparatus required a lot of soldering, at least for someone who has never soldered before, like me.  Not to toot my own horn too much, but I think I did a pretty darn good job.  Decide for yourself:

The magnetometer has a Hall Effect Sensor which has current running through it.  The sensor is attached to a voltmeter, and when the sensor is inside a magnetic field the voltage changes, depending on the direction of the magnetic field.  A change in 1 mV in the voltage is equal to 1 guass.  The difference be the normal voltage and the experimental voltage gives you the magnetic field strength.  I found the max field strength near the center of the magnet to be about 740 gauss (the Earth's magnetic field is about 0.5 guass).

We had a picnic lunch outside the physics building, and when we came back in we were ready to cool down our chambers for the first time.  I didn't put enough alcohol in the ice box or in the reservoir in the tank, so I didn't see anything at first, but when I fixed those problems I started to see some tracks.

I wonder if a lot of the particles are being blocked because we are in the basement of a large building.  Maybe when I take it home or use it at school we will get more tracks.

Someone decided we needed a radioactive source so we would be able to see a lot of tracks.  We used the calibration source of a geiger counter to shoot gamma rays into one of the chambers.  Here's what it looked like:

In that clip you should see the "cloud" which looks like fog or rain. If you look carefully you will see wisps in the cloud, which is caused when a cosmic ray ionizes the alcohol.

This isn't my chamber, but they are all basically the same. This video was shot at 720p, and I wish it could be a little clearer, so the next time I'll try 1080p, and probably 720p at 60fps after that.

QuarkNet 2010: Day 3

Yesterday we didn't do much building at QuarkNet.  On Tuesday there weren't enough supplies for each of us to build two alcohol reservoirs, so many of us spent a few minutes in the morning building or second reservoir.

The magnets arrived yesterday, and after lunch we installed them.  Each magnet is about 6 cm by 12 cm, and I am pretty sure Helio said they are about 500 gauss.  It was a simple install.  They had brackets already made and holes already drillled.  All we had to do was add a little silicone adhesive to help hold it in place and screw the bracket to the underside of the plate.  See?

This magnet will create a magnetic field (duh) in the alcohol fog, which will cause the charged particles to travel in a curved path.  Negative particles will curve on way, and positive particles will curve the other way.  The amount that the particles curve depend on the mass of the particle, so by studying the particles path we will be able to calculate the momentum of the particle.

The rest of yesterday was taken up by a very interesting lecture by Helio, and a Q&A session in the afternoon.  Helio's lecture was great.  He is a soft spoken man, with a good sense of humor, and he is incredibly knowledgeable.  Better still, he is good at explaining things and is very patient.  We learned a lot about particle physics, which is my favorite aspect of physics.

Today we are going to build the magnetic field sensors, and I really hope we'll get to make some clouds today.  I saw someone bring in some dry ice, so that's promising.

QuarkNet 2010: Day 2

Today at QuarkNet we built a reservoir for the alcohol. One of the teachers who has been involved with QuarkNet for a while had the PVC already cut for us, we just needed to assemble it. The reservoir has magnets on each end, which will be attracted to magnets on the outside of the tank. The magnets are offset a little, so that as the tank is turned upside down the top of the reservoir always points up. This is going to make it incredibly easy to load alcohol into the chamber.

Here's the reservoir:

There's felt inside which will increase the surface area of the alcohol to aid in its evaporation.

After lunch we assembled the light strip that we'll use to illuminate the fog, making the tracks easier to see.  Another QuarkNet veteran prepared the wood and provided us with excellent instructions.  We had to do a little wiring and soldering, but it was pretty easy. 

Here's the light strip:

and illuminated:

Added to the setup from yesterday we have:

Tomorrow we'll build sensors to measure the magnetic field on the surface of the plate.  I guess we'll also add the magnets.  Maybe we'll even be able to make some clouds.

QuarkNet 2010: Day 1

I'm participating in QuarkNet 2010 this week at Stony Brook University. QuarkNet is a workshop they have been running since 1999 (I think) for high school physics and chemistry teacher, and pre-service teacher as well. This year each participant is building a cloud chamber which we'll use to measure the momentum of cosmic rays.

I took class at Stony Brook while I was a grad student there with the same professor who is running this workshop, Helio Takai, and in that class we were working to improve a previous cloud chamber design. It was a really fun class (for which there were no assignments or homework) but there was only one cloud chamber. In this workshop we are each building one, and we get to bring them back to our schools for demonstrations next year.

Here's the basics about how the cloud chamber works:

A metal plate is placed above a styrofoam cooler filled with dry ice and alcohol. Metal feet/legs extend down from the plate into the solution to conduct heat out of the plate. On top of the plate is an upside down fish tank, with a reservoir of alcohol in the top of it. There is a temperature gradient between the cold metal plate and the top of the fish tank at room temperature, which causes the alcohol to evaporate and then condense in a layer about an inch think at the plate.

This "cloud" is supersaturated, and when cosmic rays (electrons, positrons, protons) pass through the fog you can see their trail. A magnet is added under the metal plate to create a magnetic field, which affects the path of the charged particles that pass through the cloud. By filming the cloud chamber in operation for a while we will be able to extract frames during which an interesting event happened and calculate the momentum of the particle.

God Prefers Atheists

I always figured that if God did exist, and if he was a reasonable God (a lot to ask, I know), that I'd be okay because I try to be a good person, for no other reason than I think it's the right thing to do.

Long Term Energy Plan

People are not going to like this, but something has to be done.
  1. The price of gas has to increase. We can wait for the supply to diminish to the point that the market raises the price, or the government can levy higher taxes to manipulate the price at the pump. Gas should be at least $5 per gallon. The money raised by taxes can go to support R&D for alternative energy sources, and the higher cost of travel will encourage people to conserve by buying fuel efficient cars, car pooling, taking public transportation, walking/cycling more, or by simply traveling less.
  2. Encourage the production of more nuclear power plants now that the moratorium is over. Nuclear energy is not the long term solution, but it is a major step in achieving oil/coal independence. There are so many reasons to build new nuclear plants:
    1. The moratorium didn’t shut down old plants, so now we have 104 nuclear power plants operating in this country that are at least 30 years old.
    2. New nuclear technologies have been developed that are more efficient than old technology. This means that the energy they produce is cheaper.
    3. Safety is the biggest concern of opponents of nuclear power. New nuclear technologies are safer than the ones currently in use.
    4. The storage of spent nuclear fuel is not as dangerous as people make it out to be. Read Richard Muller’s book “Physics for Future Presidents” for more information.
    5. In America, more people have died working in the coal industry this year than have ever died working in the nuclear power industry.
    Three Mile Island was a success, not a failure. Of course things might go wrong; people make mistakes and equipment malfunctions. That’s why there are so many backup systems and safety measures in place. The events at Three Mile Island showed us that those systems work.
  3. Public and private sectors both need to invest in wind and solar energy. My money is on solar energy, but current technology is very expensive and minimally efficient. Over the next 50-100 years, solar cells will get cheaper and more efficient, and we will either incorporate them into structure we already have (solar shingles for instance) or build large solar farms, or both. After the initial investment this energy is essentially free, requiring fees only to maintain equipment and eventually replace it. No burning of fossil fuels, no storing or nuclear waste, just cheap, clean electricity.
All of these steps need to be taken in order for us to have the energy we need. If we choose to start now, the process will be less painful. If we wait, times are going to be tough. Some countries are already on step two, so if we want America to be an important player in the energy market a hundred years from now we have to start playing catch up. I think we can do it if we stop letting politics get in the way of things that really need to get done. I fear this might be too much to ask for.

There Is No God (And You Know It)

Someone posted this old article on /r/atheism on Reddit today. It's Sam Harris and it's from the Huffington Post in 2005. Read the entire piece here. It's short and well written, like Harris' other works. Here are a couple excerpts.

On what atheism is:

"The entirety of atheism is contained in this response. Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply a refusal to deny the obvious."

In reference to the "people of faith" that died during Hurricane Katrina:

"Only the atheist has the courage to admit the obvious: these poor people spent their lives in the company of an imaginary friend."

Why atheists can be the most humanistic and compassionate people:

"Because he refuses to cloak the reality of the world’s suffering in a cloying fantasy of eternal life, the atheist feels in his bones just how precious life is -- and, indeed, how unfortunate it is that millions of human beings suffer the most harrowing abridgements of their happiness for no good reason at all."

How Are We Not Outraged?

We have been hearing about this oil spill in the Gulf for almost two months now, and I just realized that I am furious about it. Up until now I have been reacting like I normally do to the news. I shake my head and scoff at the failure of our politicians, the corruption of government regulations, and the greed of CEOs and shareholders.

When I first heard about the spill I thought, “Wow! That sucks. They better get that taken care of soon. I’m sure they will.” I was fucking wrong. Seriously, how are we not outraged? People should be rioting outside BP’s US headquarters in Houston. I mean fucking rioting! Would rioting make the oil spill stop? No, but it might make us feel a little better.

I still see people buying gas at BP stations. WTF?!?!? Have they not been listening to the fucking news? How could you voluntarily give your money to a corporation that is single-handedly destroying the ecosystem in the Gulf? AAAAHHHHH!!!!!

What can we do about this?


Reddit Find - "Sorry atheist ladies. No luck for you."

I'm sure they're all very upset about it.

Observations at Church

I had to go to church on Saturday for my wife's friend's wedding.  A Roman Catholic church to be exact.  Here are a few observations:

1) For a Roman Catholic church, it was quite modest.  It is surrounded by trees and large sections of the walls are glass.  You seem almost to be in the forest yourself.

2) It is fucking scary listening to people recite prayers or saying things in unison.  It's like they've all been brainwashed into some sort of crazy cult...oh, wait...nevermind.

3) The one part of mass that I actually really like is the "peace."  If you are not familiar with Catholic mass (I'm not sure if other sects do this) at some point during the service everyone turns to the people around them, shakes hands, and says, "Peace be with you."  I think this is great.  Strangers turning to strangers and wishing each other peace in their lives.  People really do seem sincere when they do this, and it is not necessarily a religious act.  I would like to experience that more.

4) Church etiquette for an atheist or non-Christian:  When everyone rises for some reason, I rise.  I don't do any of the praying or the crossing or anything, but I stand to be polite.  When everyone kneels to pray, I just stay seated.  There's no way I'm getting down on my knees for anyone. (insert gay joke here)

What do you think?

What a Jackass

Yesterday we had an assembly at school 9th period (the last period).  I appreciated this because 1) the auditorium is air conditioned and 2) because the auditorium is near the main entrance/exit.  Once the final bell rang, I bolted out the front door to my car, hoping to beat the buses and traffic on the LIE.  I get to the Northern State on the Sunken  Meadow and there's fucking traffic already!  It's only 2:30, what the fuck?

Then I see this asshole:

I guess he didn't see the myriad of signs stating that commercial vehicles are prohibited on the parkways and that there are low bridges.  He also failed to notice the sign right before the bridge (you can see it just to the right of the trailer) that says the bridge is only 11'6".

It's a good thing this happened so early.  I bet the road was cleared within an hour, in time for the normal cluster-fuck on a Friday afternoon.

Oh! One time on the way home from college I sat in traffic for about two hours on the Cross Island Parkway, which is only 10 miles long, because some jackass rented a U-Haul and got stuck in the underpass at the Southern State.  Some people...

Patchogue-Ecuadorian Relations

A lot of people have heard about the 2008 murder of Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero in Patchogue, NY, my home town. It was on CNN, the NY Times, lots of places. The event shined a light on the anti-Hispanic sentiment that is common on Long Island. Recently the ring leader of the Patchogue-Medford High School students who went out looking to beat up "Mexicans" was sentenced to 25 years for 1st degree manslaughter.

But that's not what this post is about. In this week's issue of The Long Island Advance there was an article about the Mayor of Lucero's home town, Gualaceo, coming to Patchogue. Marco Tapia Jara met with the mayor of Patchogue Village, Paul Pontieri, and Deputy Mayor Steve McGiff. Mr. Jara also traveled around the village and had a chance to meet with some of the many immigrants from Ecuador.

Mr. Jara said, "The people here are very grateful. We can say our villages are alike. This gives us the idea that Patchogue welcomes harmony." I am not quite sure about that, myself, but it is nice to hear this sentiment from a visitor. Mr. Jara was also able to reunite with his brother and sister who left Ecuador for Long Island when he was young.

Mr. Pontieri is planning on visiting Gualaceo soon to visit Lucero's home town.

I think this is a great way to share culture and ideas, and hopefully to promote tolerance. Although, the mayors of the towns are obviously already tolerant. Perhaps there should be an exchange program for young people in Patchogue and Gualaceo to see learn about each other's lives.

Mr. Jara continued, "The politicians from the village of Patchogue support the families of Ecuador. We have confidence in Patchogue. From my heart I have a feeling of happiness."

Atheist Blogs

I definitely need to spend more time browsing the many great blogs on the Atheist Blogroll, but I have recently found a few blogs that look really cool. Rather, they found me.

Laughing in Purgatory: It's all about Atheism, parenting, and comedy.

This blog has only been around for a few months, but it is updated regularly. Andy runs the site, and it is interesting and funny. I'll be adding this to my new Atheist RSS feeds.

Sober Without Gods:An oasis of free thought and expression for those who seek to live a sober life based on reality & rationality with the support of people who've been there.

This is another new blog, and I really like the idea of it. Fortunately I don't have any problems with drugs or alcohol, but even so I always resented the 12 step programs for excluding atheists and nonbelievers. Apparently AA is bullshit anyway (see Ed's post here) but it still pisses me off.

Atheist Revolution:Breaking free from irrational belief and opposing Christian extremism in America

This blog is amazing. Vjack has been running this site since 2005 and it's really well organized and written. One of the things I really like about the site is that Vjack enjoys giving advice to new bloggers, and there are a lot of tips and suggestions for improving your blog and getting more traffic. Better yet, the advice it tailored to atheist bloggers. Needless to say I'll be spending the next couple of evening perusing the Revolution.

As always, check the Atheist Blogroll for these and other great sites by and for atheists.

Bible for Atheists: Genesis 21 & 22

Genesis 21

Not much happens in this chapter. Sarah bears Abraham a son, Isaac. Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael out of his camp at the request of Sarah. Hagar and Ishmael are dying of thirst in the wilderness but the angel of god came to them and showed them where to find water. Again god says that he will make a great nation of Ishmael.

I think this is interesting because it confirms to Jews and Christians that their god is also the god of Muslims, and that they are a legitimate Abrahamic religion.

Genesis 22

This chapter is a real doozy. It exhibits one of the worst aspects of religion. God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac and Abraham obeys without question. Of course, when Abraham gets Isaac on the altar and is preparing to kill him the angel of god stops him. It was all a test to see if Abraham “feared” god.

This is a prime example of how religion is bad for humanity. People will commit crimes, murder included, because it is “commanded by god” or in the name of god. This chapter of the bible teaches us that this is good. The command of god is more important, even, than our very own children.

This world would be much better off if people cared first for their fellow man and second for their invisible god.

Stairway to Heaven

I was camping this weekend and Ramble On came on the iPod we were listening to. Ramble On, as you may know, has references to The Lord of the Rings:

“In the darkest depths of Mordor, I met a girl so fair, but Gollum and the evil one, crept up and slipped away with her.”

There are other references to The Lord of the Rings in the Led Zeppelin songs “The Battle of Evermore” and “Misty Mountain Hop” and some people believe “Stairway to Heaven” is also about LotR, but I read somewhere that the band denied that.

Even if the band wasn’t purposefully referencing The Lord of the Rings, listening to “Stairway to Heaven” always makes me think about Tolkien’s world.

“In a tree by the brook, there’s a songbird who sings…”

This line alone would not make me think of LotR, but taken with the others I interpret this to be about Tom Bombadil. Tom is the songbird because he sings everything, and the “tree” is Old Man Willow because that is where the hobbits first encounter Tom.

“In my thoughts I have seen rings of smoke through the trees…”

Smoke rings, as far as I know, don’t occur naturally. Bilbo and Gandalf smoke their pipe weed and blow smoke rings together in times of peace. This line sounds like some character longing for those relaxing days.

“…and the forests will echo with laughter.”

Makes me think of the Ents, but they don’t laugh much. Not that strong of an argument for this one.

“There’s a feeling I get when I look to the West, and my spirit is crying for leaving.”

In Tolkien’s mythology/history of Middle-Earth, the elves awoke in the east and traveling west, toward Valinor where the gods lived. The elves that remained in Middle-Earth, and those that traveled back from Valinor, have a spiritual urge to return. Around the time of The Lord of the Rings the time of elves is fading and the era of man is beginning. Indeed, in both the books and the movies we have scenes showing the mass exodus of Middle-Earth by the elves.

Blog Traffic Update

So I've had my blog up and running again for six weeks, and I think I have posted something every weekday. I'm pretty proud of that, even if some days I just posted a funny picture or Youtube video.

About a month ago I signed up at StatCounter.com to keep track of page loads and visitors. The graph above is of the past 30 days. It's interesting to see how the traffic fluctuates during the week. There is little traffic on the weekends because people are too busy living life to read my silly blog, and it picks up later on in the week (Thursdays have seen the most total traffic) as people become less and less motivated to do work at their job. I figure it usually slows down on Friday because people realize they have a lot of shit to do before the weekend.

In total I have had 878 page loads, 482 visitors, and 58 returning visitors these past thirty days. And before anyone suggests it StatCounter.com does not count me in those numbers.

I hope that some of those returning visitors are real-life friends of mine, but I figure most of them are coming in from the Atheist Blogroll. I need to spend more time reading the blogs that are often listed as *NEW* along with mine on the list. I have already spent time reading some of them, and I am thinking about reviewing some of my favorites.

DO ME A FAVOR - If you are one of my returning visitors, or if this is your first time here, let me know who you are in the comments.

From the Archives: May 20, 2010

In my local paper, The Long Island Advance, there is a weekly (as is the paper) segment titled From the Archives of the Long Island Advance, in which they present some news clips from 100, 75, and 50 years ago. A lot of the news is so mundane that I find it to be very funny. I hope that you do too.

From 100 years ago:
  • Ira Rogers’s bull dog Jumbo was run over and killed by
    an auto.
  • About a dozen Tungsten lights on Main Street, between
    the village limits and Swan River, were turned on by the
    Patchogue Electric Light Co. They are the first to be placed
    in the recently organized lighting district.
  • At the Unique the contest to decide the most popular
    young lady in town stood as follows: Esther Smith, 175;
    Edith Nugent, 239; Eunice Foster, 189; Fanny Smith, 49; Sadie
    Ginocchio, 61; Nellie Gibbons, 169; Hilda Webber, 32;
    Lottie Link, 100; Mayme Vanderpool, 51; Clare Marran, 54;
    Fanny Budd, 97; Lillian Davis, 2; Nellie Ackerly, 8; Roselle
    Daly, 5; Edna Webb, 4; and Virginia Ullman, 10.
  • Thomas B. Camidge has purchased a power vacuum
    cleaner on wheels, run by a gasoline engine. He will take
    orders for cleaning houses. This is an innovation that will
    be welcomed by the ladies.Mr. and Mrs. John Romanski left for a trip to Germany
    and expect to be gone three months.

Bible for Atheists: Genesis 20

In this chapter Abraham pulls a stunt we’ve seen him pull before, but it is still mind boggling. Abraham and Sarah settle in Gerar and Abraham tells the king, Abimelech, that Sarah is his sister. Abimelech sends for Sarah, even though she is at least 90 years old at this point. In a dream that night God tells Abimelech that he is in deep shit because Sarah is actually a married woman and demands he return Sarah to Abraham.

Abimelech is confused and angry. He calls Abraham and says to him, “What have you done to us? How have I sinned against you, that you have brought such great guilt on me and my kingdom. You have done things to me that ought not to be done.”

Abraham tells Abimelech, “I did it because I thought, There is no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife. Besides, she is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife.”

Well that’s the first we’ve heard of that. So Abraham wasn’t technically lying, but he was still being dishonest.

Abimelech pays Abraham in sheep, oxen, and slaves and tells him to settle anywhere he pleases.

Oh, and we find out at the end of the chapter that God had “closed fast all the wombs of the house of Abimelech” but Abraham prays to God and God “heals” them.

Here’s a similar situation:

You see a speed limit sign that says 65 mph, so you drive that fast, but soon a cop pulls you over. He tells you that the speed limit is actually 30 mph, and revokes your license. It turns out that it was the cop who put the 65 mph speed limit sign up. You tell the judge about the misleading sign, but the judge already knows about it, and he demands you pay a hefty fine to have your license reinstated.


LOST / 24

(beware: spoilers ahead)

Sunday and Monday night saw the series finale of two shows that I've been following for a long time - LOST and 24. These are two television programs that really changed the way we perceive the medium.

I think LOST should have ended a couple years ago. That being said, I was satisfied with the finale and the last few episodes. All of our questions weren't answered, but I didn't expect that and I wouldn't want that anyway. If all the questions were answered we would close the book on LOST and move on, never to think too much about the show again. Now, even after the show is ended, we can speculate and theorize about the unknown. LOST was about mystery and now it will be forever.

For me, the finale of 24 didn't seem like a series finale, it seemed more like a season finale. With plans to make a 24 movie (or movies, more likely) the writers didn't have the freedom to provide the audience with a sense of closure. If you followed this season, especially the last 4 hours or so, you have to agree that Jack should have assassinated the Russian president and been taken out afterward by CTU. If the writers and producers of 24 wanted to make an even more lasting mark on television history, the final minutes of the series would have been Jack being taken out by CTU in a crazy firefight with Chloe crying on the sidelines, followed by a silent clock.

Kung Fu Bear

Most bears will kill you with teeth and claws. Some will kill you with kindness (see: Pooh, Winnie the). This bear will kill you with mad kung fu skills.

Maine After Nan Died

My grandma died on July 10, 2008.  It was a Thursday and I was planning on spending a long weekend in Maine with some friends from college.  My dad told me I should still take my trip because it would take a few days to make the arrangements and for his brothers to fly in from Arizona anyway.


We weren’t surprised that she died.  I had resigned myself to that fact months earlier.  I was heading home from an exam and saw an ambulance in front of me heading in the same direction. Somehow I just knew it was going to my house.

My grandma was a stubborn old lady.  Even at 81 she didn’t ask for help putting something on the top shelf in her closet, but instead decided to stand on a chair and do it herself.  She fell off the chair onto the hardwood floor and broke her hip.

I entered the house to her screaming in agony.  I tried to see if there was anything I could do to help, but I just couldn’t listen to her cries.  I went downstairs to my room and started throwing shit around, which is what I am prone to do when I’m upset.  My grandma had survived multiple open-heart surgeries, but I knew she wouldn’t make it through this.

When I was just a baby, my parents were having a house built and decided that my dad’s parents would move in with us, I think for financial reasons.  My grandpa died when I was seven and my parents were divorced when I was eleven, and after that it was just myself, my sister, my dad, and my grandma in the house.  My dad always worked two or three jobs so we spent a lot of time in my grandma’s care.  She was one of my greatest influences in life.

Bad Religion Song of the Week: Atheist Peace

Atheist Peace
Bad Religion
The Empire Strikes First

Maybe it's too late for intellectual debate
But a residue of confusion remains
Changing with the times and amphetamine tortured minds
Are the average citizen's sources of pain

Tell me what we're fighting for
I don't remember anymore, only temporary reprieve
And the world might cease if we fail to tame the beast
From the faith that you release comes an atheist peace

Political forces ran critical winds of discontent
And the modern age emerged triumphantly
But now it seems we've stalled and it's time to de-evolve
And relive the dark chapters of history

Tell me what we're fighting for
No progress ever came from war, only a false sense of increase
And the world won't wait for the truth upon a plate
But we're ready now to feast on an atheist peace

There are two levels of “atheist peace”: peace within oneself and peace in the world.

Atheism Replacing Religion?

I wasn't sure what to blog about today, so I spent 45 minutes trolling Reddit last night.  Glad I did, because I found this:

Why Atheism Will Replace Religion, on the blog The Human Beast by Nigel Barber, Ph.D.

It's a short article if you want to read the whole thing, but he is basically saying that in developed social democracies, such as Sweden and Denmark, people do not rely on religion very much (Sweden is 64% nonbelievers!), while in developing places like sub-Saharan Africa nonbelief accounts for less than 1% of the population.

It seems that people turn to religion as a salve for the difficulties and uncertainties of their lives. In social democracies, there is less fear and uncertainty about the future because social welfare programs provide a safety net and better health care means that fewer people can expect to die young. People who are less vulnerable to the hostile forces of nature feel more in control of their lives and less in need of religion.

Extrapolate these findings, and one can see how religion might eventually be marginalized as more countries are developed.

The United States would fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.  Obviously religion is much more prevalent here than in Western Europe, but we also do not have the level of social programs they do.

Perhaps increased atheism will be a pleasant side effect of healthcare reform. No? A guy can dream, can't he?

People Who Have Read the Entire Bible

I can't disagree with this chart.  I mean, it's completely unscientific, but that's beside the point.  If you read the whole Bible, and I mean really read it, I don't see how you could believe everything some people believe.  There are plenty of contradictions in there and lots of stories that have pretty ambiguous moral conclusions.

At the very least, any reasonable person would have to admit that the book was definitely the product of man, and not some divine word of god.  That alone would prevent you from fully participating in many Christian sects.

I guess this infographic might also be a commentary on the mentalities of believers and non-believers.  Many atheists I know (I hesitate to say most atheists) also have an insatiable thirst for knowledge, which leads them to learn about other people's beliefs, especially of the dominant religion in their country.

Religious people might be content to have the bible interpreted for them, and to be told what to believe and how to worship.  In fact, for many years the Bible was only available in Latin, preventing all but the priestly class and other well educated people from reading it and developing their own interpretation.

tl;dr - Read the bible.


I found this video of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull on Reddit the other day. I shared it on Google Reader, but it is so cool I figured I'd post it here too.

Oh, and if anyone wants to buy me a Canon 5D MarkII, please send me an email.

Bible for Atheists: Sodom and Gomorrah Edition

Disclaimer: This is a long-ish post, but these chapters are among the mostly cited, especially here in America by the anti-gay movement.  I encourage everyone to read the actual text and to draw conclusions for themselves.  I hope that the following summary and commentary will help some people make sense of this particular passage.

Chapter 18

God and a couple angels appear before Abraham one day.  God tells Abraham that his wife Sarah, who is very old (“it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women”), that she would bear Abraham a son.  Sarah laughs at this. 

God hears her laughter and asks Abraham why she would laugh, and if she did not believe that God could do as He says.  Sarah says, “I did not laugh.”  God replies, “Oh yes, you did laugh.”

That short conversation seems juvenile to me (Did not! Did so!) but besides that, I think this might be an illustration of the righteousness of men as opposed to women.  Men are the truly pious and are therefore superior to women, at least in the eyes of God.

I look at this a completely different way.  Abraham takes what God says as true, without question, but Sarah uses her logic and reason to evaluate the situation for herself.  Of course this doesn’t work out for her, since God is actually there and his existence and power cannot really be questioned, but I admire her spirit.

Here is the really interesting part of the chapter.  God has an internal debate about whether or not he should tell Abraham his plans regarding Sodom and Gomorrah.  God decides not to keep this secret from Abraham, as he is to be the father of God’s chosen people.  The angels will be sent to the cities to see if the rumors about their wickedness are true (I guess God is not truly omniscient after all) and if they are He will destroy them. 

Abraham is appalled, and he dares question God’s decision.  “Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it?  Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you!”

Bad Religion Song of the Week: God's Love

God's Love
Bad Religion
The Empire Strikes First

Striking at mental apparitions
Like a drunk on a vacant street
Silently beset by the hands of time
Indelicate in its fury
An aberrant crack as skeletons yield
To unrelenting gravity
While viruses prowl for helpless victims
Who succumb rapidly

(Tell me!) Tell me; where is the love?
In a careless creation
When there’s no “above”
There’s no justice
Just a cause and a cure
And a bounty of suffering
It seems we all endure
And what I’m frightened of
Is that they call it “God’s love”

Twisted torment, make-believe
There’s a truth and we all submit
“Believe my eyes,” my brain complies
To all that they interpret


I know there’s no reason for alarm
But who needs perspective when it comes to pain and harm
We can change our minds; there’s a better prize

But first you’ve got to…

They call it God’s love
My pain is God’s love

Bible for Atheists: Genesis 17

Genesis 17

God makes Abram an offer he can’t refuse. Abram shall be henceforth known as Abraham, for he will become “the ancestor of a multitude of nations.” (NRSV, Genesis 17:5) Abraham’s descendants will be kings of all the land of Canaan and all Abraham has to do is cut off his foreskin, the foreskins of all the males in his house, the foreskin of every baby born in his house, and the foreskin of any slave bought with his money.

Um…what the fuck, God? What is the deal with God’s foreskin fetish? In Chapter 17 of the NRSV the words foreskin and circumcision occur eight times between verses 9 and 14.

Well, I have an idea why God had such a strange request, and I can thank Professor Heinegg of Union College’s English Department. I took his World of the Bible class junior year. It was a secular class about the Bible and its place in history and as an historical document.

The reason why the Jews have been practicing circumcision might be to distinguish themselves from neighboring tribes. This was Heinegg’s explanation of other Jewish traditions as well, such as their food laws. In order to have a distinct cultural identify they chose to do things differently than their neighbors.

Back in the day, when you saw a Jewish man’s penis you knew something about him. You might know he is one of you, or that he is an enemy, but either way it identifies him as a Jew.

From the Archives: May 6

In my local paper, The Long Island Advance, there is a weekly (as is the paper) segment titled From the Archives of the Long Island Advance, in which they present some news clips from 100, 75, and 50 years ago. A lot of the news is so mundane that I find it to be very funny. I hope that you do too.

From 100 years ago:
  • The great Neuman, the Russian psychic, who astonished
    New York and other big cities last fall by his marvelous
    feats of mind-reading, will come to Patchogue next week
    at the auditorium.
  • Mr. and Mrs. John Romanski left for a trip to Germany
    and expect to be gone three months.
  • In the line of progress, we are glad to note Ackerly’s new
    24 H.P. automobile piano truck. This is the first piano house
    on Long Island to have its own auto-delivery. Mr. Ackerly
    says the bugbear of long drives for delivery has now been
    changed into a pleasure, and he is looking forward to a radius
    of business three times as great as formerly.
  • The 50 Tungsten lights in the Blue Point lighting district
    were turned on by the Patchogue Electric Light Co. and the
    illumination makes a gratifying difference to those going
    through this section at night. The East Patchogue district
    will be lighted by May 15, it is said. The company is pushing
    work along for the Moriches district. The Bellport Village
    district has not yet signed the contract.

Are You Fucking Kidding Me?

Now Congressional Republicans and Democrats would like the ability to strip a US citizen of his/her citizenship in the case of a terrorist attack (or, apparently, an attempted terrorist attack). Being a citizen of the United States comes with many rights and privileges, such as your right to remain silent.

To be honest, I only heard a small segment about this on CNN this morning, so I don’t understand all the details. Here are some questions I have:
  1. Would this only apply to naturalized citizens or to naturally born citizens as well?
  2. Would this apply to all terrorist attacks or only terrorist attacks perpetrated in the name of religion?
             a. Only Islam or any religion?
  3. How would the government be prevented from applying this de-citizenship more liberally, in cases that aren’t clearly terrorism, or even in cases that clearly are not terrorism?
No matter the answers to the above questions, I don’t like this idea one bit. People are born Americans or they earn their American citizenship, and this is something that should not be revocable. If we need to change or create some laws in order to more effectively prosecute terrorists, then Congress should make those laws, but citizenship should be untouchable.

Times Square Car Bomb

Recently naturalized American citizen Faisal Shahzad was arrested Monday night for attempting to blow up a vehicle parked in Times Square in New York City. Mr. Shahzad was born in Pakistan but was naturalized in April 2009.

With the intent of attaining information regarding imminent threats to the United States, Shahzad was interrogated by the F.B.I. without being read his Miranda rights. If the United States were in imminent danger of some other, preventable terrorist attack, Mr. Shahzad had no right to remain silent.

After providing what the F.B.I. called “valuable intelligence and evidence” Shahzad was read his Miranda rights but decided to keep talking.

This procedure was not strict enough for some Republicans.
Senator John McCain of Arizona called it a mistake to read Mr. Shahzad his Miranda rights so soon. “When we detain terrorism suspects, our top priority should be finding out what intelligence they have that could prevent future attacks and save American lives,” he said on Sean Hannity’s radio show. “Our priority should not be telling them they have a right to remain silent.”(NY Times)

US Constitution

As some of you may know, I have been reading through the Bible and commenting. I haven't even finish Genesis yet, but I'm in no rush. I am also going to start reading through the US Constitution commenting on that.

Something I saw on YouTube last week got me interested in reading the Constitution again. It was a clip from MSNBC in which they compared statements from Sarah Palin regarding the United States and Christianity with quotations from the Constitution and from our Founding Fathers.

The point they were trying to make was that although Palin and others consider America a "Chistian nation" the Founding Fathers did not. In fact, they envisioned the exact opposite. They had seen the effects of religion on the nations of Europe and elsewhere, and did not want the same for their new nation.

Bad Religion Song of the Week: Kyoto Now

Kyoto Now
Bad Religion
The Process of Belief

It's a matter of prescience
No, not the science fiction kind
It's all about ignorance,
and greed, and miracles for the blind
the media parading, disjointed politics
founded on petrochemical plunder
and we're its hostages

If you stand to reason
you're in the game
the rules might be elusive
but our pieces are the same
and you know if one goes down we all go down as well
the balance is precarious as anyone can tell
this world's going to hell

Don't allow
this mythologic hopeful monster to exact its price
Kyoto now!
We can't do nothing and I think someone else will make it right

You might not think it matters now
But what if you are wrong
You might not think there's any wisdom in a fucked up punk rock song
But the way it is
cannot persist for long
a brutal sun is rising on a sick horizon

It's in the way
we live our lives
exactly like the double-edge of a cold familiar knife
and supremacy weighs heavy on the day
it's never really what you own but what you threw away
and how much did you pay?

In your dreams
You saw a steady state a bounty for eternity
Silent screams
but now the wisdom that sustains us is in full retreat
Don't allow
this mythologic hopeful monster isn't worth the risk
Kyoto now!
We can't have vision for the future if it can't be fixed
We need a fresh and new religion to run our lives
Hand in hand
the arid torpor of inaction will be our demise

Oh, Kyoto now

People don't understand, or don't want to understand, or don't want you to understand humans' effects on the environment. The oil industry has our elected officials in their pockets, and there's nothing we can do about it.

"We can't do nothing and think someone else will make it right." This is true in so many contexts. In terms of the environment it is even more important because the "we" is all human beings. If we won't change ourselves who will change us?

People don't understand that the problems we face with the environment are not immediate. It is not like a volcanic eruption or coal mine collapse. We need to look look at trends in the environment over periods of decades, or centuries, or millenia in order to understand it and our impact on it. Most people don't understand such abstract ideas, and they don't care either.

In the past we thought nothing of exploiting the environment. Few would have used the word "exploit." Now we are learning about our misdeeds, and hopefully we will look into the future and decide that we cannot go on in our current relationship with the environment. If we don't then "hand in hand the arid torpor of inaction will be our demise."

Biggest Loser

Biggest Loser started last month at my school, and I decided that I should join this time. Bri and I have our own place now so we have the ability to keep healthier food around and access to the kitchen whenever we need it. I had no excuse to not join.

I don't expect to win this year. Don't get me wrong, if I wanted to win I would win, but I would be miserable the whole time and I would put the weight right back on. Biggest Loser would be some motivation for me, but it would not be the goal itself.

It is unhealthy to lose weight too quickly, for whatever reason. A pound a week seems to be the standard, healthy amount. A pound a week isn't going to do too much for me in the Biggest Loser contest, which is only 3 months (12 pounds) long. If I can change my lifestyle, though, and keep up the dieting for a longer time, I could lose as much weight as I want.

So here's my new goal: A pound a week for a year. That will amount to a net loss of, you guessed it, 52 pounds, which will leave me at a healthy 180 pounds. For a man of 5 feet 8 inches 180 pounds is still considered overweight according to most height/weight charts (I am currently obese, apparently) but I don't think the "healthy" range of 130-170 pounds would actually be healthy for me.

Progress so far? Well, so far so good. I've been up to this for a month and I have gone from 229.2 pounds to 222.2 pounds (a 7 pound loss) so I am actually ahead of the game.

I am not going to be strict about only losing 1 pound a week for now, and later on when I only lose 1/2 pound a week that will be okay too, as long as I am on track to have lost the 52nd pound by next April.


My wife and I recently bought a Co-op, and we were astounded by our first electric bill. We have a lot of tech, so I figured that would make it more than our neighbors, but this was just way to much. I decided to invest in a Kill-a-Watt to find out just how much power our stuff uses, both "on" and "off".

I checked all the components hooked up in the entertainment center, at my desk in the office, and the few gadgets in the kitchen. I currently have the Kill-a-Watt hooked up to the refrigerator, and in a couple days I'll check it to find out the average power (it varies a lot depending on whether or not the compressor is running).

I've posted the power of each item (the number in parentheses is when the item is "off") and the total cost to me each month, based on my estimated hours of usage. Check here for a complete rundown.

Oh, we live on Long Island, and we have decided :cough:were forced:cough: to get our electricity from the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) which charges 18¢ per kWh.

The only thing I really discovered is that I should make sure I put my computer in sleep mode or turn it off when I am not using it. I spend about $20 per month to run my computer, but I am only using it a few hours a day.

The question still remains: what are we spending all this money on every month?!?!? There are things that I can't/won't test with the Kill-a-Watt (washer/dryer, dishwasher, water heater, etc), but I don't know if they could make up the difference. Any suggestions in the comments would be appreciated.

ItemPowerCost Per Month
Living Room  
Floor Lamp7.5 (0)0.162
NES10 (4.5)0.5832
MacMini20 (0)0
LaserDisc (Pioneer)22.5 (8)1.0368
N648.5 (0)0
Cable Modem8 (N/A)1.0368
Plasma TV (Samsung)250 (0)6.75
Phone1.5 (N/A)0.1944
Wireless Router2.5 (N/A)0.324
Wii16 (1)0.1296
Xbox 360100 (0)1.08
Cable Box22 (22)2.8512
Computer150 (2)19.44
Monitor25 (0)3.24
Computer (w/sleep)150 (2)3.456
Monitor (w/sleep)25 (0)0.54
Printer7 (0)0.9072
External DVD-R6 (9)0.7776
Speakers11 (6.2)1.4256
Keurig5.4 (3.8)0.69984
Toaster950 (1.7)0.647055
Kitchenaid Stand Mixer90 (0)0.0324
Total Cost (w/o sleep) 41.317695
Total Cost (w/ sleep) 22.633695

Separation of Church & State?

Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled on a case regarding the separation of church and state. Here’s a summary of the case straight from the Court’s ruling:

“In 1934, members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) placed a Latin cross on federal land in the Mojave National Preserve (Preserve) to honor American soldiers who died in World War I. Claiming to be offended by a religious symbol’s presence on federal land, respondent Buono, a regular visitor to the Preserve, filed this suit alleging a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause and seeking an injunction requiring the Government to remove the cross.”

At some point in the 90’s a Buddhist requested permission to use public land nearby but was denied.

A District Court decided that having the cross up violated the Establishment Clause. While the government’s appeal was pending, the Congress passed “the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2004, §8121(a) of which directed the Secretary of the Interior to transfer the cross and the land on which it stands to the VFW in exchange for privately owned land elsewhere in the Preserve (land transfer statute).”

The District Court ruled that this was disingenuous; that Congress was just circumventing the court’s ruling. The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the District Court was wrong, and that such a land transfer would be an appropriate action.

From the majority opinion of Justice Kennedy:

“…the District Court concentrated solely on the religious aspects of the cross, divorced from its background and context. But a Latin cross is not merely a reaffirmation of Christian beliefs. It is a symbol often used to honor and respect those whose heroic acts, noble contributions, and patient striving help secure an honored place in history for this Nation and its people. Here, one Latin cross in the desert evokes far more than religion. It evokes thousands of small crosses in foreign fields marking the graves of Americans who fell in battles, battles whose tragedies are compounded if the fallen are forgotten.”

I understand the sentiment here, and by no means would I disrespect the men who have fought and died for this country, but he main idea that an eight foot tall Latin cross evokes is religion. There are plenty of beautiful, respectful monuments in honor of our troops all over this country that do not display such blatantly religious objects. I pass a very nice, patriotic monument honoring those lost in Vietnam every morning on my way to work. I think it’s great. If I had to drive past a large cross on public property every day I would not be so happy.

From the dissenting opinion of Justice Stevens:

“The Establishment Clause, if nothing else, prohibits government from ‘specifying details upon which men and women who believe in a benevolent, omnipotent Creator and Ruler of the world are known to differ.’ A Latin cross necessarily symbolizes one of the most important tenets upon which believers in a benevolent Creator, as well as nonbelievers, are known to differ.

I certainly agree that the Nation should memorialize the service of those who fought and died in World War I, but it cannot lawfully do so by continued endorsement of a starkly sectarian message.”

I couldn’t say it better myself. I guess that’s why these people get appointed to the highest court in the land.

By the way, the Court’s rulings were very easy to find and, believe it or not, they are moderately comprehensible for the lay person. Find more here: SupremeCourt.gov.

Bad Religion Song of the Week: Punk Rock Song

Punk Rock Song
Bad Religion
The Gray Race

Have you been to the desert?
Have you walked with the dead?
There's a hundred thousand children being killed for their bread

And the figures don't lie, they speak of human disease
But we do what we want and we think what we please

Have you lived the experience?
Have you witnessed the plague?
People making babies sometimes just to escape
In this land of competition the compassion is gone
Yet we ignore the needy and we keep pushing on
We keep pushing on

This is just a punk rock song
Written for the people who can see something's wrong
Like ants in a colony we do our share
But there's so many other fuckin' insects out there
And this is just a punk, rock, song!

Have you visited the graveyard?
Have you swam in the shit?
The party conventions and the real politic
The faces always different, the rhetoric the same
But we swallow it all, and we see nothing change
Nothing has changed...

This is just a punk rock song
Written for the people who can see something's wrong
Like workers in a factory we do our share
But there's so many other fuckin' robots out there
And this is just a punk, rock, song!

10 million dollars on a losing campaign
20 million starving and writhing in pain
Big strong people unwilling to give
Small in vision and perspective
One in five kids below the poverty line
One population runnin' out of time, running out of time!

This is just a punk rock song
Written for the people who can see something's wrong
Like ants in a colony we do our share
But there's so many other fuckin' insects out there
And this is just a punk, rock, song!

This is a great song about people's apathy and disregard for the suffering of other humans beings. I'll be honest, the song kinda makes me feel guilty, because I haven't done a whole lot to change the world myself.

From the Archives: April 15

In my local paper, The Long Island Advance, there is a weekly (as is the paper) segment titled From the Archives of the Long Island Advance, in which they present some news clips from 100, 75, and 50 years ago. A lot of the news is so mundane that I find it to be very funny. I hope that you do too.

From 100 years ago:
  • Miss Mae Andrus entertained a dozen of her school girl
    friends with music and games, it being her 12th birthday
  • A curiosity in the shape of a pretty white rat with pink
    eyes was caught in the barn of C.M. Hedges in East Patchogue.
  • Local firemen are discussing the possibilities of securing
    a siren whistle as a fire alarm.
From 50 years ago:
  • The three pupils of the Brookhaven School who took the
    Regents examinations had the following marks: Ruth Ballard,
    arithmetic 100, spelling 88; Elsa Kip, arithmetic 96,
    spelling 88; Elizabeth Kuzmech, arithmetic 93, spelling 88.
  • Miss Marion Byers of Bellport is attending the ice carnival
    at Williams College in Massachusetts.

Top 5 Concerts - Metallica @ Nassau Coliseum

It had been quiet a while since I was excited about a new Metallica album. Actually I had never been excited for one before, since I only started listening to them around the time Reload came out, and I only heard negative things about St. Anger (feel free to disagree in comments). The best thing about a band releasing a new album is that it is almost always followed by a tour.

Sure enough, Metallica was scheduled to play at Nassau Coliseum at the end of January 2009. A friend of mine knew someone who worked at the Coliseum, who thought they could get him in for free, and I was really jealous. I wasn’t sure if anyone else was going, so I didn’t buy a ticket. The day before the concert, my friend finds out he is going for free, and I scrambled to find a ticket. I figured that I could, at least, drive there and back with him. My father-in-law sells merch at the Coliseum, and he offered to buy a ticket for me from the box office since he would be there a few hours early. I’m in.

We get to the show, and I hang out with my friend, hoping I could tag along with them to their seats. But they don’t have regular seats, they will be enjoying the show from an unoccupied luxury box, and they can get me in too. Sweet!

We get up there and they have hot food out (pretzels, hot dogs, burgers) and cold beer in the fridge, all on the house. They even brought more beer later on. The box is like a hotel room, with a bathroom, a kitchen area, and a couch and a couple chairs. This is where the food was and where we hung out during the opening bands.

When Metallica came on we moved down to the seats of the box, and the show was great. Although no one was blocking us, the view wasn’t that great because we were up really high, but it’s about the music, right?

Getting to see one of my favorite bands + free food and beer + not dealing with a crowd + private bathroom = Top 5 Concert.

Religious Respect

Dredged from the depths of Reddit:

(Actually it was on the front page. I usually don't get more than 3-4 pages deep.)

I don't really have much to add to this, but I'll muster something up.

I, personally, haven't been harassed about my atheism (not seriously, anyway) and I know that among my brothers and sisters in less tolerant places in the country/world I am counted lucky. Humor me one example:

As you may have guessed from that title up on the top of the page, I am a teacher. Working in a school means I am often expected to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance. Besides the fact that our school children recite this short verse so frequently that it has grown almost completely meaningless, I don't really have too much of a problem with it. I just refuse to say the "under god" part. That's reasonable anyway, since "under god" was not added until 62 years after the pledge was penned. (The original pledge is quoted below)

Whenever I mention my distaste for those eight letters people usually respond in some way that amounts to, at least to me, "Your opinion and feelings don't matter to us because the vast majority of Americans believe in some god so don't make a big deal about it crybaby." Maybe that is just my irrational emotions, but they are backed up by the 1st Amendment of the mother fucking Constitution of the United States.

I have experienced disrespect from Christians, for simply sharing my feelings about something that is important to me, but god forbid anybody criticize their beliefs or religious institutions.

Even when the pope helps pedophiles get away with molesting children.

"I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands: one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all."
-Francis Bellamy, 1892

Monkey Prostitution

I just finished listening to Superfreakonomics. It was really good, and I especially liked the epilogue, which was about monkey prostitution. Read that again. Monkey prostitution, that’s right.

This whole thing began as a study to find out if monkeys could adopt an economy. The researchers used something like washers as money, and the first thing they had to do was teach the monkey’s their value. A researcher would hand a monkey a coin and if/when the monkey gave it back the researcher would give the monkey a piece of fruit. Eventually the monkeys learned the value of money, and even learned to handle a fluctuating economy.

One day a male stole the coins from the research room and brought them back to the cage where all the monkeys lived. Sure enough, the male with all the coins gave one to a female and within minutes they were boning down.

Talk about the world’s oldest profession.

Genesis 15-16

Genesis 15

Abram complains to God that he doesn’t have any children, but God reassures him that Abram’s descendents will be “as numerous as the stars.” (Genesis 15:5, NRSV) Abram makes the required sacrifice, and falls into a deep sleep, in which God tells him, “Know this for certain, that your offspring shall be aliens in a land that is not theirs, and shall be slaves there, and they shall be oppressed for four hundred year; but I will being judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.” (15:13-15, NRSV)

Obviously this is a foreshadowing, a pretty blatant one, of the Jew’s time in Egypt. Reading this passage raises many questions in my mind about this god. Is he just foretelling the future like a psychic, or will he be the cause of the oppression? If the former, couldn’t he do anything to prevent centuries of oppression of his chosen people? If God can bring judgment on “the nation that they serve” couldn’t he just prevent the whole ordeal? If the latter, why? To prove the Jews are worth being the chosen people?

Genesis 16

Sarai tells Abram that since she could not bear him a child, he should take her handmaiden Hagar as a wife. The son Hagar bears for him would, apparently, be considered the child of Sarai and Abram. Abram agrees to this, either in spite of what God had just told him or because he felt this would fulfill God’s promise. Hagar conceives a child and proceeds to “look with contempt on her mistress.” (Genesis 16:4, NRSV)

I can understand the response, I guess, since I have known some bitchy people. Hagar accomplishes something Sarai could not and looks down on her because of this (even though Sarai is wicked old and her lady parts don’t really work anymore).

Sarai doesn’t take this attitude too kindly. “May the wrong done to me be on you!” she yells at Abram. What the fuck!?!? How is Hagar’s attitude his fault? Women…psh. Abram, the ever patient husband tells her that since Hagar is her slave-girl, Sarai should “do with her as you please.” (16:6, NRSV) Sarai gives her what-for and she runs off.

Hagar is out in the wilderness and an angel appears and tells her to go back to Sarai and to submit to her. The angel tells Hagar that he will greatly multiply her offspring, and that she should name her son Ishmael, who will be “a wild ass of a man, with his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him.” (16:12, NRSV) What is that all about? This is the Ishmael, mind you, that is considered the ancestor of the Arab people and a prophet of Islam. I don’t get it.

"The Universe"

I recently entered the Reddit WritersGroup Prompt Contest IV. The prompt:

Write a story about a character witnessing some sudden, catastrophic event. It could be a bombing, an auto accident, a random murder, a very public breakup, or something less lame. The event should be sudden and out-of-flow with the character's life, and you should depict an aftermath.

I focused on the "something less lame" part, and I went with the other extreme, the most awesome event - the big bang. I figured I'd try to write something from the perspective of the universe itself, and it ended up being a poem.

Please leave criticism if you like!

"The Universe"

An explosion of
immense proportions.
I am energized. Unlimited
potential. The searing heat fires
my soul. The blinding light stimulates
my mind. The force swells within me. The
force is me. Many forces, but one only. There
is a soup – a boiling, bubbling, delicious soup. I drink
it in. It fills me up, but my capacity is unlimited. I
am growing, growing, growing, More quickly
than you can comprehend. I am Behemoth,
Ziz, Leviathan. Cooling off now, things
start to make sense. Colder still,
and I can see everything.
Can this last forever?
Can I last forever?
I am alone.

Bad Religion Song of the Week: Don't Pray On Me

Don't Pray On Me
Bad Religion
Recipe for Hate

A grizzly scene on my electron beam
Told a story about human rights
So all of king's horses and all of king's men
Had a riot for two days and nights
Well, the city exploded but the gates wouldn't open
So the company asked him to quit
Now everybody's equal
Just don't measure it

Well, Hanson did it to Hester
And Mark David did it to John
And maybe Jack did it to Marilyn
But he did it to South Vietnam
For beauty and glory
For money, love, and country
Now everybody's doing it
Don't do that to me

A bitter debate and a feminine fate
Lie in tandem like two precious babes
While the former gets warmer, it's the latter that matters
Except on the nation's airwaves
And custodians of public opinion state facts
After vainly discussing her rights
Lay hands off her body
It's not your fucking life

Now I don't know what stopped Jesus Christ
From turning every hungry stone into bread
And I don't remember hearing how Moses reacted
When the innocent first born sons lay dead
Well, I guess God was a lot more demonstrative
Back when he flamboyantly parted the sea
Now everybody's praying
Don't pray on me

The first verse references the LA Riots. The King is, of course, Rodney King, whose beating sparked the unrest. “Now everybody’s equal, just don’t measure it.” This line represents the history of the civil rights movement in this country. Technically, legally all citizens are equal under the law. Practically, equal couldn’t be farther from the truth. Minorities suffer the worst schools, lowest paying jobs, and highest incarceration rates, to name a few.

Second verse: Everyone is fucking each other, figuratively or literally. I read that Hanson/Hester is an incorrect allusion to the Scarlett Letter, Mark David Chapman killed John Lennon, JFK boned Marilyn Monroe and fucked up Vietnam. Moral: don’t fuck people over.

Third verse: Blatant protest against pro-lifers.

Fourth verse: Moral inconsistencies in the Bible - examples abound. How could the same god that preaches peace and loving thy enemy allow people to go hungry or cause the death of innocent children?