News of the Obvious: Teens like getting it on

The Washington Post reports: Premarital Abstinence Pledges Ineffective.

Despite the demise of bands like Warrant and Poison, teens like getting it on, no matter who they promise they won’t — and they’re not always safe about it:

The new analysis of data from a large federal survey found that more than half of youths became sexually active before marriage regardless of whether they had taken a “virginity pledge,” but that the percentage who took precautions against pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases was 10 points lower for pledgers than for non-pledgers.

I’ve known for a long time that the only way to make abstinence work is to lock the teenager in your basement. Which reminds me, this will have to be a short piece as I have to take more Papa John’s and Fanta down to the basement. (Teens also eat a lot!)

Some other gems from the article:

“Previous studies would compare a mixture of apples and oranges,” Rosenbaum said. “I tried to pull out the apples and compare only the apples to other apples.”

Well, Dr Rosenbaum, we all know the kind of trouble that apples have been credited with starting.

This somewhat good news, that it may take more than a simple pledge to keep teens in the know about sex and its consequences received a befuddling reaction from the National Abstinence Education Association:

“Abstinence education programs provide accurate information on the level of protection offered through the typical use of condoms and contraception,” she [Valerie Huber of the National Abstinence Education Association ] said. “Students understand that while condoms may reduce the risk of infection and/or pregnancy, they do not remove the risk.”

The message here would seem to be that abstinence is best prevention, because if you can’t start the car, you can’t crash it. But if you’re going to drive, fuck the seatbelts because they’re not 100% foolproof.


Old Soldiers: The Favre/McCain Connection

Long ago I promised you a piece on the similar stylings of Brett Favre and John McCain. Out of deference to Favre I had to wait until the NFL season finished and Favre’s blimp of a career set the horizon on fire in Hindenberg fashion — although my inner football fan wanted to write this piece weeks ago, as early as the election. As I stated in an earlier comment: Favre is to football what McCain is to politics.

Both men, it is now known, went down in defeat this year, likely final defeat, served up by opponents that can rightly be described as “up and coming.” For McCain, the rising star of Barack Obama; for Favre, the Lazarus-like Miami Dolphins.  In each case, their character and hubris was the key factor in their fall.

Both can be characterized as “old soldiers.” McCain in the literal sense, Favre in the way that Americans laud the leaders of their football squads. The images of McCain’s POW days, his fiery temper, his penchant for reform and “maverick-ness” juxtapose nicely with the images of the grizzled, unshaven Favre, breathing steam in the cold, playing hurt, and never saying die. A broken body wouldn’t make McCain give up or Favre come out of the game. Both were unquestionably heroes, even to those who opposed and hated them. McCain for being the firebrand who would run counter to prevailing Congressional wisdom, Favre for being the gutty leader who, as a fan, you could tolerate losing to.

For reasons entirely within their control, however, memories of both will have a different tinge than bronze-bust-ready, Hall of Fame-Commemorative Stamp one described above. If a high water mark or defining moment in the downward slide of these two had to be picked, I suppose one could throw a dart somewhere around the Spring of 2006 when Favre first hemmed and hawed about his plans for the next year and when McCain made a trip to Liberty University to preside over the graduation ceremony of those he had previously criticized as “agents of ignorance.”  Favre appeared to have nothing left in the tank and McCain appeared to be falling in with the conservative bedfellows he eschewed. Thus commenced the wearing thin.

And it was a wearing thin indeed — the final unraveling took time. McCain’s political career survived and Favre’s passing career stayed alive. McCain’s enough to push him to the front of the Republican heap in no time and allow a cakewalk to the nomination; Favre’s season impressive enough to stir up talk that the MVP caliber Favre had returned. The final blow to these halcyon commanders likely came sometime this past summer-again throw a dart in August. Favre who had retired, held the nation and Green Bay Packers hostage in a multi-week soap opera, petitioning for his return, that ended in the severing of ties with Green Bay and a trade to New York-not a likely destination for a southern boy who preferred wood chopping to wine. About this time, the number of McCain’s residences became national news, he picked a running mate that hearkened more to conservative culture than to Maverick and as days wore on McCain had to throw more traditional conservative (read divisive) hay makers to try to sway the polling. Favre could at least throw touchdowns, for a few more weeks.

Ultimately we know how McCain’s tactics played out, and on Election Night, some of the grace of McCain appeared to have returned. And now we know how it turned out for Favre. Two “Stevie Wonder” quality interceptions in a must win game; no offseason; talk of being mentally fatigued and his body aching. Favre’s past mistakes were always excused by his lust for winning: He’s just having fun, he just wants to win, he just wants to compete. And perhaps in time McCain’s nastiness and desperation during the campaign will be regarded in a similar light. But for now, we’ve seen two swan songs. It’s time for the two old soldiers to fade away.

Which Christmas?

Christmas is just around the corner, and I of course wish you a merry one. However, it makes me shudder when someone talks about the Christian christmas. Christoper Hitchens expresses some strong argumentns in a recent article The moral and aesthetic nightmare of Christmas, and while I share the sentiment it is not entirely fair to condem it altogether. Not all details fall under the same category.

In the Christian tradition Jesus’ birth is of course the central event but lets look where the other traditions of a Winter-Solstice-type holiday come from.  Most likely it orginates from the germanic pagan winter festival Yule (Jul in swedish) . In turn, Yule may have been influenced by the Roman winter festival Saturnalia where slaves and masters temporarily changed roles and gave each other gifts, although this is not confirmed.

The “Christmas” tree also orginates from Germanic pagan traditions and for this reason such trees are forbidden in some religious denominations. Santa Claus is a figure which has gone through many iterations, including early Christianity in Turkey and, of course, German folklore and pagan traditions. Contrast this with the Swedish tomte (losely meaning hob) which is much more sinister. A tomte is a “spirit” of the farm which helps the masters with the duties. But if you forget his rice pudding and snaps you are supposed to leave him on the yule evening, you can expect a bad year to come. Also, in Sweden christmas gifts have not always been given out of caring, but rather as crude jokes. Small logs with a note mentioning the intended receiver and the joke itself were thrown in after knocking on the door of the home in question.

The point is that Christmas is an evolved tradition which also differs slightly between cultures and countries. Christianity tries to get a free ride of instant an unquestioned respect — as it often does.

Another example is the blending of Halloween, a Celtic feltival, with All Saint’s Day, conveniently moved by Pope Boniface IV in 609 ad. So while saying Christmas is a Christian tradition is not completely wrong it is still somewhat dishonest.

I celebrate a secular christmas, one where you spend time with friends and family, eat good (and too much) food, and have a good time. Now, keep that religion away from me, thank you.

More on Non-Physcial Existence

This is the kind of reasoning we get when we assert that non-physical, non-material things exist. You may recall that over the past couple threads I have argued that concepts (like the number 2) are physical because they exist as ideas in our heads — and ideas in our heads have a physical component. They are structured by the interconnection of neurons in our brains — something I think we can all agree is physical. Outside of the “idea” of 2, I am not willing to say that 2 exists… but I am, as always, open to arguments!

In any case, here is a Young Earth Creationist using the notion that ideas (logical proofs in this case) are non-physical, non-natural “objects” and therefore necessitate, among other things, the existence of God, the truth of the Bible, and a 6000 year old earth.

If naturalism were true, it would be impossible to prove anything. Proofs involve use of the laws of logic, such as the law of non-contradiction, which says that you can’t have A, and not-A at the same time and in the same relationship. The laws of logic are not part of nature. They are not part of the physical universe. So, if nature ( the physical universe) is all that exists and if laws of logic are not part of nature, then they can’t exist. But they are required for rational reasoning. So, the naturalist view is actually self-refuting. So the naturalist view is actually self-refuting. If it were true, it would be impossible to reason. Yet naturalism is what secular scientists use as the foundation for their thinking. We will show why this explains many of the incorrect conclusions drawn by secular scientists, such as evolution and an old Earth.

The bold and underline is mine. You can read a full review of the book this quote came from here.

Tyson Cut Back to Part-Time

I have news! Gleefully wonderful news! I won’t be posting nearly as much as in the past (which you have likely already noticed) — because I’ll be teaching an evenng Philosophy course.

The class is at Anne Arundel Community College, starting January 26th. I am hurridly cobbling together my syllabus and making plans to both excite and torment my students’ minds…

I’ll still blog, but not nearly as often. Brain will pick up some slack, and perhaps Roger as well. 

For now, some questions:

  • For those of you who took Philosophy in college, what did you like best — and least?
  • For those who did not take it, what do you fantasize such a class would be like?

Thanks for any insights you can share…

Journey to the Edge of the Universe with Brain Skarpowsky

An apt title I suppose since some of you have no doubt been wondering: Where is Brain Skarpowsky? Did Yeiser take him out? Is he being vetted by the Obama cabinet selection team? Has he indeed fallen off the edge of the universe…an update then….

Post election, I suffered something akin to burnout/withdrawal; media deprivation based delirium tremens. Ty has fared much better, but his tolerance has no doubt been built up by dealing with the lingering “Gulf War Syndrome” that will some day haunt his dreams. This coincided in a very rough way with Mrs. Skarpowsky asexually budding for a second time, bringing total chaos to the Skarpowsky “household.” My brain has simply not been able to function in a manner consistent with logging into a computer, opening a browser, and taking in information. Let alone, spitting information back. In between fits of sleep, I rock gently in the corner, hoping that the magical TV box will light up with Sarah Palin’s cackling image (where has the MILF media coverage gone to? Back to Angelina supposedly). 

By the dim light of my iPhone, I have been able to keep up with some transmissions of news of the outside. But as great as the screen is, the most I can muster is an arched eyebrow or two before  I squint, cry a little, and eventually fall back asleep. Thoughts are like familiar faces passed in haste on a crowded subway–they look familiar, but for the life of me, I could not possibly put a name to a face or even make sure the subject went before the verb. 

But then tonight, what comes on the TV: Journey to the Edge of the Universe. An HD show, displaying all sorts of nooks and crannies of the outer reaches of our universe (is it really ours?). Awe inspiring, navel-gaze-inducing scenes of this thing, this universe. The pictures are cool, but the narration is only something that could be swallowed whole by a mouth breather. First off, the narrator, if it isn’t actually him, certainly sounds like Alec Baldwin. Worse he sounds like the guy who did Alex Baldwin’s voice in Team America: World Police. This is an indictment in and of itself. The Democrats/Obama has/have won. Alec (or his sound-alike), go fall off the edge of the universe — your voice is not needed. 

In between talking about how gases combine and stars are born or collapse, Alec goes on to tell us that, not only is the universe scientific, but it is actually an artist. I almost elbowed Mrs. Skarpowsky in the ribs, but she was asleep and doesn’t get enough chances for that these days. I decided to spit my coffee out and run to the computer instead. The universe is an artist???? Sentimentally this is an attractive thought and it makes you want to go pull the bong out of the garage and see if you can synch up Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” to the show. But it is an utter fucking crap thought (Megan, your comments of late have inspired this one). Well if the universe is an artist… who is the artist? Is it a he/she? Does he know the watchmaker? Did it design intelligently? Maybe it is just artistic design, instead of intelligent design. (A slightly more appealing thought, but no more intellectually rigorous). If only Douglas Adams had been around to proof the script. The universe? What can you say about it? It simply is. Scientists can tell us where the hydrogen and dairy creamer is, how deep it could appear to be, which way it’s shrinking or growing, make educated guesses about where the matter is. But in no way can you in good conscience try to pass off the overlaying of poetry and science as fact in a show that purports to be scientific. It is a bad and dare I say dangerous thinking. Because once you’ve seen another little Skarpowsky come squiggling wet, screaming, and naked out of the womb, you really can’t claim to have any answers as to the artistic structure of the universe. 

Is this terribly important? Well, No. But you get back on the horse one step at a time.

Science as a New Cultural Tradition

I was watching Richard Dawkins dialog with Aubrey Manning (approx. 50 minutes long) the other day and some of the points they discussed made me think.

Many of the traditions we practice have religious orgins, which of course needn’t be bad in itself. Obviously, tradition and ritual have a place in building solidarity and socializing individuals. However, it seems to me that the question many ask in an increasingly secular world is what will we have instead? As Manning points out, science is a human activity which has value in itself. It not only gives opportunity for wounder but also invokes both emotions of joy and dispare.

No science is too hard to understand, at least not on a principial level. One problem is that the papers submited for peer review obscure science from lay persons. Yes, there is a point to using certain kinds science-speak; however, scientists should be obliged to not only help us understand, but also to intrigue us and to appreciate their knowledge. Those school books with nothing but formulas and constants don’t do the job.

And this is why I recommend these videos. It is a Berkeley course called Physics for future presidents by Richard A. Muller. The emphisis is on concepts and an idea of magnitudes instead of formulas and specific numbers. In my mind it should have the title “Physics for Everyone,” and while it’s alot to watch (26 episodes of ~1 hour each) I consider it a duty.

Science is also an enterprise in which we all partake. Our current advancement in technology and welfare comes from science. We only need to take the example of penicillin. Before its discovery far more diseases ran rampant through our populations. Now one may say that science of medicine represents a moral good, whereas the science of physics does not. Yet I believe there is a moral component in simply getting closer to truth. In other words science should, indeed must, be central to a modern tradition.

In his book Unweaving the Rainbow, Richard Dawkins wrote the following: “We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born.” We should celebrate our opportunity to be here, taking part in the world. Our means of celebrating should be through understanding — that is to say, through science.