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So much for the wall of separation

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Integrity in national journalism is officially dead:

Time Inc. has fallen on hard times. Would you believe that this once-proud magazine publishing empire is now explicitly rating its editorial employees based on how friendly their writing is to advertisers?

Last year—in the opposite of a vote of confidence—Time Warner announced that it would spin off Time Inc. into its own company, an act of jettisoning print publications once and for all. Earlier this year, the company laid off 500 employees (and more layoffs are coming soon). And, most dramatically of all, Time Inc. CEO Joe Ripp now requires his magazine’s editors to report to the business side of the company, a move that signals the full-scale dismantling of the traditional wall between the advertising and editorial sides of the company’s magazines. … — “Time Inc. Rates Writers on How “Beneficial” They Are to Advertisers,” Gawker.com

And then there’s this, in which a Sports Illustrated article about Drew Brees was basically one long advertisement for a TRX training system. The article failed to mention that Brees is an investor in the company that makes the equipment, according to Forbes.

Here’s SI’s half-hearted reply:

This was a story about how an elite QB entering his 14th season stays at the top of his game, while affording readers access to those same training methods. It was not a story about TRX, though we should have disclosed the relationship. It was unintentional, but it should have been acknowledged.

How does a magazine on the level of Sports Illustrated, which is part of Time, fail to make such an acknowledgment unless, of course, that wouldn’t have been beneficial for advertisers.

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Written by Jeremy

August 18th, 2014 at 9:31 pm

Debunking theistic evolution

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A common misconception floating about among Christians is that scientists, freethinkers and others “believe” in evolution the same way they believe in God or divine providence, and sometimes we slip into the misleading language in this way to describe our perception that evolution is a real process. Of course, this misunderstanding is essentially based on skewed semantics, as the word, “believe,” can be used to mean both something that a person takes on faith and a disputed piece of information that a person chooses to accept against the alternatives. But as Keith Blanchard said here, evolution is not disputed:

Theistic-Evolution

Theistic evolution

Evolution is nothing more than a fairly simple way of understanding what is unquestionably happening. You don’t believe in it — you either understand it or you don’t. But pretending evolution is a matter of faith can be a clever way to hijack the conversation, and pit it in a false duality against religion. And that’s how we end up with people decrying evolution, even as they eat their strawberries and pet their dogs, because they’ve been led to believe faith can only be held in one or the other.

Thus, instead of saying we believe or even accept evolution, perhaps we should speak about it with as much certainty of fact as we do gravity and the planet’s rotation around the sun, for when believers decry evolution, they make themselves look as ridiculous as if they had suddenly claimed the world is flat. While I agree with Blanchard that a person can, and many do, recognize evolution as fact and simply reconcile it with their faith — notice how the reach of faith always, always recedes behind science — they must do so at the expense of the Bible’s validity. Liberal Christians, such as Francis Collins, reconcile evolution and the Bible by claiming that God was behind the whole plan of creation and guided evolution to ultimately culminate in human beings. Basically, since Genesis does not provide an exact time frame for the process of creation, a “day” in the Bible could be virtually any amount of time.

But there are at least two problems with this theory. OK, three. First, although the Bible attempts to provide years and time periods for “historical” people and events, no attempt, as I’ve said, is made to do this in the creation story. One would think that an important event like the creation of man would have warranted a basic timeline so the Bible’s later readers could know about when the species began. Certainly, providing this information in detail would not have been out of the purview of an all-knowing god.

Second, as the image above points out, evolution is riddled with “errors” in design (Here’s just a few). Presumably a god who was in control of the process would have been able and willing to streamline the process and “guide” evolution more efficiently without the flaws, which leads to the next point. More than 98 percent of all species that ever existed, including early humans, are now extinct. An all-loving God would have had to watch eons and eons of misery and death before our little blip of time came around. Sure, some Christians will argue that millions of years for God is nothing, but while God might be able to fluidly transport himself through space and time, he still orchestrated a plan that includes 98 percent more death and destruction than life. So although some Christians do regard the accepted science of evolution as true, they still have logical mountains to climb if they are to reconcile evolution with the notion of all-loving, all-powerful god.

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Written by Jeremy

August 18th, 2014 at 9:23 pm

Restaurant review: Big Kahuna Wings, Farragut, Tenn.

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I started writing this review for Urban Spoon, but I noticed they have a tool to link back to restaurant reviews from blogs, so I figured I would just write it here. Maybe I will offer some local reviews more often; I sure as hell eat out enough.

***

My roommate and I tried Big Kahuna Wings a couple nights ago. The experience was an overall positive one for me, although not so much for my roommate.

For an appetizer, we got the pig fries, which are basically heavily seasoned french fries, pulled pork, bacon and cheese, in other words, a clogged artery waiting to happen. In any case, it was very good, and both of us enjoyed it. I only had a few bites because, as my roommate was not impressed with the wings, she ate the larger part of the appetizer.

Big Kahuna Wings - Pig fries

Big Kahuna Wings – Pig fries

For the meal itself, we got the “original hot” traditional wings with hot sauce served on the side. The only real complaint I have with the menu is that the 10-piece wing is the smallest available option in the traditional. Given how big the wings actually are, which is definitely a positive, a smaller portion would be a good option for people who don’t want to gorge. Two 10-piece wings plus an appetizer just seemed like it would be overkill, so we just got the one order.

My roommate did not like the wings at all. She thought they were too salty and lacked heat. I actually liked the dry rub, but you do have to add the sauce to get any semblance of heat from the “original hot.” It could have been different, but to me, the spice on the wings tasted similar to the spice on the fries. While my roommate also didn’t like the taste of the hot sauce, I thought it was good, although it reminded me a little of Tabasco sauce. Big Kahuna’s “hot” sauce is mild compared with how other wing joints in the area define “hot.” If you actually want hot, you might want to try the “original fire,” which is what I might do next time.

The restaurant also has a decent selection of beer; I was especially pleased that they had Fat Tire. Service was good, and one of the managers (I think) came by to check on us.

I would go back to try other items on the menu since the restaurant also has a good selection of burgers and sandwiches, and I would even have the wings again if I can drag my roommate back for seconds.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Big Kahuna Wings on Urbanspoon

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Written by Jeremy

August 15th, 2014 at 5:18 pm

Myers reaches new level of arrogance

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I actually sympathize with Coyne who seems to be scratching his head on this reaction from PZ Myers on Robin Williams’ death.

Here’s Coyne quoting Myers:

Here’s how you don’t respond to Williams death: as P.Z Myers has in a post at Pharyngula, in which he claims that the media (and our government) has taken advantage of Williams’s death to draw attention away from racism and other social problems. In other words, we’ve been manipulated:

 I’m sorry to report that comedian Robin Williams has committed suicide, an event of great import and grief to his family. But his sacrifice has been a great boon to the the news cycle and the electoral machinery — thank God that we have a tragedy involving a wealthy white man to drag us away from the depressing news about brown people.

. . . Boy, I hate to say it, but it sure was nice of Robin Williams to create such a spectacular distraction. No one wants to think the police might be untrustworthy. [This refers to the police shooting of black teenager Mike Brown in St. Louis.]

And think of the politicians! Midterm elections are coming up. Those are important! So people like Barack Obama need to be able to show their human side and connect with the real concerns of the American people by immediately issuing a safe, kind statement about Robin Williams, while navigating the dangerous shoals of police brutality and black oppression by avoiding them. Wouldn’t want to antagonize those lovely law-and-order folks before an election, you see.

Wealthy white man? Really? This is one of the most contemptible and inhumane things I’ve ever seen posted by a well-known atheist. It reeks of arrogance, of condescension, and especially of a lack of empathy for those who loved and admired Williams not because they knew him, but because he brought them happiness and made them think.

Well said. But I wonder if Coyne was caught off guard by Myers’ “arrogance” and “condescension,” which isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. Surely Coyne isn’t just now discovering that Myers’ comments often reek of arrogance and condescension. And atheists wonder why believers sometimes brand nonbelievers as close-minded pricks. Its because of assholes such as this.

Postscript: After sleeping on it and talking in the comments section, I had a few more thoughts on this. I think the point Myers was trying to make about the media milking Williams’ death was probably a legit gripe, but it was far overshadowed by the statement about “wealthy white men” and “it sure was nice of Robin Williams to create such a spectacular distraction,” which were particularly abhorrent. The man hung himself after a lengthy battle with depression and addiction and still managed to be one of the most beloved figures of our time; whatever the media and politicians hope to gain from his death is beside the point.

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Written by Jeremy

August 13th, 2014 at 12:47 am

Cowardice

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Notice how fast Rand Paul exits — within seconds — when an actual Hispanic constituent questions the GOP strategy on immigration. Big-feeling tough guys when the cameras are rolling at Fox News, right? Yet pussified when actually asked to own up to their policies in person:

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Written by Jeremy

August 13th, 2014 at 12:17 am

Interview with Robin Williams

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Here is an honest talk with Robin Williams from April 26, 2010, with comedian Marc Maron. He talks honestly about depression, addiction, mortality and of course, comedy. He even contemplates the notion of suicide at about the 56:00 mark. It may change how you think about Williams.

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Written by Jeremy

August 12th, 2014 at 9:12 pm

Bad teams, worse uniforms‏

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Two bad football teams, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Jacksonville Jaguars, who went a collective 8-24 in regular season season play last year, are squaring off right now in their first preseason game.

Given the Jaguars’ already-awful jerseys and the Buccaneers’ new “groundbreaking” hey-if-we-distract-fans-with-glow-in-the-dark-jerseys-maybe-they-won’t-notice-the-terrible-team-on-the-field jerseys, I’m going to go ahead and christen this game the Ugly Jersey Bowl:

jacksonville jaguars jersey
tampa bay bucs jersey

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Written by Jeremy

August 8th, 2014 at 8:49 pm

Native advertising: ‘Repurposed bovine waste’

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Written by Jeremy

August 7th, 2014 at 6:06 pm

Cross-purposes

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Credit: Yahweh, God Almighty

Credit: Yahweh, God Almighty

Charles C. Haynes in his most recent “Inside the First Amendment” column addresses the court case of American Atheists, Inc. v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, in which nonbelievers have attempted to keep the notorious cross-shaped beam from being exclusively displayed at the National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum at Ground Zero in New York.

Although some Christians have found comfort and even symbolism in the existence of the “cross” among the wreckage at Ground Zero — despite the inconvenient fact that practically all construction beams can be construed to look like crosses — some atheists have contended that the cross at the historic site violates the Constitution. But as the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the recent case,

The Establishment Clause is not properly construed to command that government accounts of history be devoid of religious references.

The American Atheists group essentially agreed that the cross was important for historic reasons, but argued that if the cross was going to remain at the site, a display should be added acknowledging that nonbelievers were also victims in the tragedy. Here’s the important part in Haynes’ column:

In rejecting the atheists’ challenge to the display and demand for equal time, the appeals court panel took the opportunity to give a primer on the meaning of government “neutrality” under the First Amendment.
Yes, the Establishment Clause requires that government remain neutral among religions — and between religion and non-religion. But for constitutional purposes, neutrality doesn’t mean ignoring religion or, in this case, leaving religion out of the story.

Government-funded museums may not, of course, erect displays intended to promote or denigrate religion. Inclusion of religious artifacts (or objects viewed as having religious meaning) must have a secular or educational purpose.

The many religious paintings, altarpieces and other religious objects in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., for example, have profound religious content and may have been used at one time for devotional purposes. But they are now part of a secular museum, displayed to convey the history of art. Remove religious images and objects from the West Wing of the National Gallery, and the place would be nearly empty.

Similarly, exhibits at the 9/11 National Museum have an obvious secular purpose: They document the history of the terrorist attacks and the rescue efforts that followed. The Cross at Ground Zero is a significant part of that story. Leaving this object out would not only be incomplete history; it would signal hostility to religion that could itself be viewed as a violation of the First Amendment.

The cross-shaped artifact is in the “finding meaning” section of the museum, included among some 1,000 objects associated with ways — religious and nonreligious — in which people sought to make sense of the attacks.

One can easily see how adding an atheistic display at Ground Zero alongside the cross or other religious or nonreligious items to cater to any and all groups who may or may not be offended by the exclusion of such could become ridiculous, which is why the Establishment Clause stipulates that the government doesn’t have to provide balance necessarily, just that religious symbols on public property have to have some type of underlying secular purpose or historical significance, like providing comfort to grieving families in a time of national tragedy. Of course, one can also easily see the irony in a symbol of one religion bringing spiritual comfort to one set of people that have suffered immense personal turmoil directly as a result of adherents to another religion. The story never changes: one religion cheers, the other mourns, vice versa ad infinitum and religion still poisons everything.

Download Haynes’ column here.

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Written by Jeremy

August 7th, 2014 at 4:31 pm

On Sam Harris’ controversial essay on Israel

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Zionism “the initial demagogic lie (actually two lies) that a land without a people needs a people without a land. … 

“Israel doesn’t ‘give up’ anything by abandoning religious expansionism in the West Bank and Gaza. It does itself a favor, because it confronts the internal clerical and chauvinist forces which want to instate a theocracy for Jews, and because it abandons a scheme which is doomed to fail in the worst possible way. The so-called ‘security’ question operates in reverse, because as I may have said already, only a moral and political idiot would place Jews in a settlement in Gaza in the wild belief that this would make them more safe.

“Of course this hard-headed and self-interested solution of withdrawal would not satisfy the jihadists. But one isn’t seeking to placate them. One is seeking to destroy and discredit them. At the present moment, they operate among an occupied and dispossessed and humiliated people, who are forced by Sharon‘s logic to live in a close yet ghettoised relationship to the Jewish centers of population. Try and design a more lethal and rotten solution than that, and see what you come up with.”

— Christopher Hitchens, Frontline interview, May 2007

***

For all the intense criticism that has been hurled against neuroscientist Sam Harris for his recent essay, “Why Don’t I Criticize Israel?,” I think a lot of his naysayers, including Andrew Sullivan, P.Z. Myers, A Million Gods blog and others, missed the larger point.

First, Sullivan seems to take issue with the fact that although the title announces the fact that Harris doesn’t criticize Israel, he then proceeds to criticize Israel numerous times, not the least of which is a statement against Israel’s right to be in the first place. In the text of the essay, however, Harris admits that his position on Israel is “somewhat paradoxical:”

For those of you who worry that I never say anything critical about Israel:  My position on Israel is somewhat paradoxical. There are questions about which I’m genuinely undecided. And there’s something in my position, I think, to offend everyone. So, acknowledging how reckless it is to say anything on this topic, I’m nevertheless going to think out loud about it for a few minutes.

I don’t think Israel should exist as a Jewish state. I think it is obscene, irrational and unjustifiable to have a state organized around a religion. So I don’t celebrate the idea that there’s a Jewish homeland in the Middle East. I certainly don’t support any Jewish claims to real estate based on the Bible. [Note: Read this paragraph again.]

Now to the main part of the essay. Essentially Harris’ point is that Israel, as a democracy in the Middle East surrounded by enemies that have threatened to wipe it off the map for decades now — and for centuries before that — Israel should not be blamed for defending itself, and although thousands of deaths have resulted from the conflict on the Palestinian side, which has been wholly “disproportionate” in Israel, the latter nation has a vested interest in preserving civilians because of the residual and humanitarian backlash that has occurred for years and has flared up again in recent weeks. I don’t necessarily agree with that assessment, and I think Israel has played too strong a hand in responding to the threat from Gaza, and likewise, Hamas’ strategy of using humans as shields is reprehensible to the highest degree. In short, so-called “leaders” on both sides have failed their own people and failed miserably in refusing to broker longterm peace. Neither side has any winners for sure, but innocent people of Gaza, serving only as pawns for Hamas, have suffered the most. 

Here is one of Harris’ main points:

But there is no way to look at the images coming out Gaza—especially of infants and toddlers riddled by shrapnel—and think that this is anything other than a monstrous evil. Insofar as the Israelis are the agents of this evil, it seems impossible to support them. And there is no question that the Palestinians have suffered terribly for decades under the occupation. This is where most critics of Israel appear to be stuck. They see these images, and they blame Israel for killing and maiming babies. They see the occupation, and they blame Israel for making Gaza a prison camp. I would argue that this is a kind of moral illusion, borne of a failure to look at the actual causes of this conflict, as well as of a failure to understand the intentions of the people on either side of it.[Note: I was not saying that the horror of slain children is a moral illusion; nor was I minimizing the suffering of the Palestinians under the occupation. I was claiming that Israel is not primarily to blame for all this suffering.]

And this, I think, is where critics have departed from Harris’ actual meaning and inferred their own. Myers, in his usual explosive tone, had this to say in retort:

The “Palestinians have suffered terribly for decades under the occupation”. Stop right there. What do you mean, we critics are “stuck”? Isn’t that a terrible, awful fact of Middle East history that is being blithely glossed over? Of course it is. Sam Harris apparently does not think it’s that big a deal that the Palestinians are suffering under an occupation, and for someone who wants to claim we have to look at the big picture to see the causes of the conflict, he doesn’t seem to see how that could have led to the hatred expressed by Hamas. Again, not to excuse it…but if you want to address it, you can’t simply call the Palestinians evil bad guys and offer no solutions other than shooting them. Both sides have deep antecedents and a thousand justifications.

Harris didn’t call everyday Palestinians evil or say their mass slaughter was acceptable. Indeed, and perhaps regrettably, Harris barely mentioned the plight of actual on-the-ground civilians who are the real victims in all of this, and regrettably again, he didn’t seem to make it clear that by “Palestinians,” in almost every instance, he meant members of Hamas, not innocent residents of Gaza.

One would think that astute readers such as Sullivan and Myers would have understood the nuance in context of Harris’ larger claim, which was that religious fanaticism such as practiced and preached by leaders of Hamas is really to blame for the suffering in Gaza. In the Middle East, the Israel-Palestinian conflict is ground zero in the whole saga, as fanatics have spent thousands of years tearing each other apart with their thinly veiled claims over territory in the so-called holy land. Compared with the likes of Hamas, Israel is a virtual Mecca of secular thought with a reported 42 percent defining themselves as more worldly Jews.

The larger point, then, is that Hamas’ endgame, if it could have its way, is ultimate submission under Allah for Israel and everyone else for that matter. Perhaps Harris didn’t make a larger enough deal about Israel’s settlements in Gaza, which Hamas views as an invasion of their territory, and he’s probably mistaken to think that the settlements are solely for security, but his basic thesis was not so much a whole cloth defense of Israel — he said clearly that civilian deaths in Gaza amounted to a “monstrous evil” and freely admitted that Israel has probably committed war crimes — but a castigation of religion and its grip on the region:

What do groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda and even Hamas want? They want to impose their religious views on the rest of humanity. They want stifle every freedom that decent, educated, secular people care about. This is not a trivial difference. And yet judging from the level of condemnation that Israel now receives, you would think the difference ran the other way.

This kind of confusion puts all of us in danger. This is the great story of our time. For the rest of our lives, and the lives of our children, we are going to be confronted by people who don’t want to live peacefully in a secular, pluralistic world, because they are desperate to get to Paradise, and they are willing to destroy the very possibility of human happiness along the way. The truth is, we are all living in Israel. It’s just that some of us haven’t realized it yet.

Sullivan seems to have completely misunderstood this last part, adamantly disagreeing and detailing all the reasons why we are not, in fact, living in Israel. As I understand it, Harris’ point here is that if radical religion such that is festering in parts of the Middle East is allowed to hop the river and infect us to any large degree in the United States, we will then take on the role of Israel, in beating back the fanatics at our own doorstep. In the same way, radicalism threatens to destroy any society in the world that values human peace and solidarity.

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Written by Jeremy

August 5th, 2014 at 8:19 pm

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