Thursday, June 21, 2012

Beautiful Science

A spectacularly beautiful method of showing the particles decaying from a small chunk of Pb210 (a lead isotope).

You can do this yourself by taking a clear plastic jar and covering the bottom and sides of the inside with a thick absorbent paper. Saturate the paper with alcohol and place the container in dry ice. Then place a little chunk of Pb210 on a wire that extends to the center of the jar.

The dry ice will saturate the insides of the jar with alcohol vapor and the alpha and beta particles emitted by the lead will cause it to condense as they pass through it. Hence the little trails of smoke.

I think I feel a science related post coming on soon, therein the beauty lies.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Citizens United is Correct - but Probably Wrong

I've been reading a great blog over at Big Think called Daylight Atheism and it got me thinking, then commenting - but it all grew into a blog post so I'll just put it up here.

Here's the post: clicky - go read it and come back here.

For those of you that are too lazy, I'll summarise it by saying that the article states that Citizens United might be a reasonable decision because it is hard to distinguish between an advocacy group's right to put information out there with all their resources and a multi-billion dollar corporation's right to put information out there with all their resources. Just to show how your emotions can conflict on this issue, let's say we are talking about the Christopher Reeve foundation (an advocacy group just about everyone agrees with) and an advocacy group funded by Exxon Mobil (a corporation plenty of people disagree with).

Now I think a better example that shows how sticky the subject is would be news corporations, specifically those that are publicly traded. Such corporations put out partisan political messages on a regular basis and they often do this on the airwaves. Just like evil oil companies, they also ultimately do this for the benefit of their shareholders.

Maybe your gut instinct is to say that that is preposterous to compare the two, most news outlets at least strive for accuracy and neutrality to a reasonable degree. And that might be true. But there is no requirement that news corporations behave that way and any good behaviour on the part of our newspapers and networks is only a result of the economic pressure created by our desire for unbiased information (for the most part).

As I understand it, the problem is that in the modern corporate environment we live in, there is very little to define what exactly the press is. So giving it special freedoms is frequently complicated by the fact that it's structure is essentially identical to other entities we might not want such freedoms to be extended to. Citizens United was legally justified on these grounds and legally speaking it is pretty bulletproof.

The often quoted statement of "corporations are people" is so frequently and easily ridiculed by pundits, activists and your average liberal, that gives a false sense of security. It is essentially a straw man attack on a Supreme Court ruling that does not address the real issue.

Which is that we are trying to run a 21st century society based on 18th century rules.

I am all for the constitution on many levels, but we need to be a lot more liberal about changing it. I think it is pretty self evident that the past 50 years have heralded some previously unfathomable considerations that your average (and even exceptional) 18th century political thinker could not possibly anticipate.

Weapons development, communications infrastructure, international interdependency, etc. These are only a few of the many systems that now act on such a ridiculously massive and complex scale compared to the 1700s that I find it insane to think that you can use these old rules to play such a new game.

And everyone knows this.

Ranging from the interstate highway system and NASA to the Patriot Act and drone strikes, the US has a very rich tradition of modifying - for better or for worse - the rules the government has to play by. Any rational person will have to concede that this is necessary.

The problem I see is the method in which we have been doing this. Our governance system is encumbered and obscured by an infinite number of slight modifications that allow the change to, more often than not, only creep in.

And I see two negative consequences to this, both stemming from our natural tendency towards fear and prudence - both as individuals and as a nation. Our propensity to fear causes us to look the other way when these creeping changes might be overreaching and compromises our morals. Whereas our natural tendency towards prudence causes us to choose the easy road out when more difficult, long term solutions are clearly more beneficial.

I think it is time that we take a step back and look at our system in a very fundamental level, assessing its components for validity in the 21st century. We have a method for doing this, though, in today's political climate it is essentially impossible.

We need to change people, the world is changing without us.

Monday, June 4, 2012

CTAFF! (Christianity Today According to my Facebook Feed #1)

I think it's fair to say that since I deconverted from Christianity, I have tended towards hanging out with my non-religious friends. Not because I have anything insurmountable against religious individuals, just that our ideas of how to live our respective lives have diverged somewhat.

In any case, we're all still Facebook friends which is great for the occasional reunion, but it's also a great means for me to keep tabs on the latest trends in modern Christianity.

So I've decided to start a series of posts called CTAFF, or, Christianity Today According to my Facebook Feed which will list some of the interesting articles, memes and ideas that my friends write and repost on their Facebooks, as well as my thoughts on the matter.

Without further adieu:

It's fairly axiomatic to say that a biblical view of women doesn't afford them a particularly equitable position in society. Thankfully things like executing the unchaste and quarantining the menstruating have fallen out of favor over the last couple millennia, but unfortunately religion still holds considerable influence on relations between the sexes.

This article comes from a fairly trendy christian website that seems to be geared towards young adults, it garnered over four thousand likes on Facebook and about six hundred Tweets. I think it’s fair to say that this is a reasonably popular and trendy view of marriage according to contemporary Christianity.

As the male component of a committed heterosexual relationship, I’ll get the obvious criticisms out of the way: saying that it is shameful to withold sex, engage in criticism and prioritize oneself within a relationship is dangerous territory. Of course you can swing too far in the other direction, but the fact of the matter is that within reason I expect my partner to improve me through criticism. I am highly interested in her priorities. And it is extremely important to me that she not view sex as an obligation and that I will not view sex as a right.

Sex is a privilege. And saying that it is shameful for a woman to withhold it when things might be rocky or when communication may have broken down can create a sense of duty that frankly I find detestable. You need to work through your relationship problems when they arise and ignoring the woman’s priorities or attempting to force a sexual relationship in absence of a good communication is just asking for abuse to happen.

What makes this even more unfortunate is that this article has almost no support for its claims. Not even from the Bible. Sure, it quotes proverbs as saying that being a wife is a work in progress, but all the specifics she felt guilty about have no grounding in the bible or logic. Rather it seems that it is based only on a vague sense of subservience to the man in the relationship that is commonly expected of Christian wives. 

The relational ground is fertile for womanly guilt and any number of normal, human flaws could be extrapolated into shame and inadequacy without any cause and no effective remedy.

Which brings me to the overarching problem I have with this this article, which is simply the type of solution that is promoted.

It is normal to have difficulties in a relationship and it is expected to feel inadequate at times. Moreover, it is true that for a relationship to work you need to strive to improve yourself for the sake of your partner.

However I assure you that striving to behave as a delusional carpenter did 2000 years ago will do nothing for your marriage, and saying otherwise leads to advice columns that promote a complete lack of dialogue between the two participants in a relationship.