Friday, January 30, 2009

A Tale of Two States

The USA Today released an interesting article today. The results from a recent Gallup Poll places Mississippi as the most religious state in the Union, followed closely by Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Louisiana. Vermont is on the opposite end of the religious spectrum, with New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, and Alaska as the least religious states.

New England is decidedly the least religious, while the states in the Bible Belt are the most. With these things in mind, I thought I'd do a little fact-finding, and compare these two regions. What follows is what I found.

In almost every year since 2000 to the present, Mississippi has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the US, while New Hampshire, the 2nd least religious state, had the lowest.

From 2005 to 2008, Vermont has been the "smartest" state in the Union, while Mississippi has consistently ranked in the lowest 3 as the, err...not-so smart states. By region, New England has the highest education rate in the US, while the Southeast as a region has the lowest. In the 2008 election, the state with the highest average IQ was Connecticut with 113, while Mississippi ranked last at 85.

In 2007 Maryland had the highest average household income, while Mississippi had the lowest. Overall, New England has the highest average income in the country.

In the latest GDP rankings taken in 2006, Delaware had the highest GDP per capita of any state in the Union, followed by Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York. Mississippi ranked dead last.

In 2004 New Hampshire had the lowest crime rate followed by South Dakota, North Dakota Vermont, Maine, and New York. The District of Columbia had the highest, followed by Arizona, South Carolina, Washington, and Louisiana. Overall, the New England states had the lowest rate, while Southeast had the highest rate by region. In 2008, New Hampshire was the safest state in the US, followed by Maine, North Dakota, Vermont, and South Dakota; Nevada was the least safe in 2008, followed by Louisiana, New Mexico, South Carolina, and Arizona. Overall, New England boasts the safest region of the United States to live in.

Colorado had the lowest obesity rate in 2008, followed by Connecticut, Vermont, Massachusetts, Hawaii, and Rhode Island. Mississippi remained the heaviest state in the Union, followed by Alabama, Tennessee, Louisiana, and West Virginia rounding out the lowest 5. Overall, the heaviest region in the US is the Southeast, while the lightest region is New England.

Is it just me or do you think there might be an inverse relationship between religious fundamentalism and quality of life?

Ted Haggard: Liar and hypocrite since 1956

Surprise, surprise, surprise!

Renowned pastor and author Ted Haggard has once again given Christendom a black-eye after a church volunteer in Colorado recently announced that he and Haggard had an ongoing sexual relationship during his time at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs. You may recall that Haggard was exposed in 2006 after a male prostitute named Mike Jones revealed that Haggard was a client of his. Of course, Haggard denied any relation that the two had together, but fessed up shortly after.

Until he was exposed Haggard publicly expressed disdain, to put it mildly, for the homosexual community. I have to be careful here because I don't want to sound like I'm homophobic. Two of my best friends are gay, and I love and accept them for who they are; wonderful, vibrant, life-loving human beings who offer their best to the human race. However, it irritates me when fear-mongering, intolerant, self-loathing Christians completely trash their fellow man for things they deem "sinful", but walk out their church doors and do exactly the same.

So, a message for Mr. Haggard: If you're gay, stop lying to yourself and your family, and accept it. You'll find that no matter where you go, you'll have plenty of people who will still love you, and you might even gain a little respect along the way.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A message for Richard C. Hoagland

For those of you who don't know who Richard C. Hoagland is, he's a giant in the realm of pseudoscience and conspiracy theories. He believes that there are ancient cultures on Mars that placed the infamous "Face on Mars" that was discovered by the Viking Mars probe in 1976 in a Martian region called Cydonia. He also believes that there are giant glass domes on the lunar surface constructed by alien civilizations. You might have heard him on Coast to Coast AM with George Noory if you listen to late night radio. Even after he's been thoroughly debunked, this charlatan continues to influence millions of impressionable minds around the world. If you want a good laugh, go to a local book store and cozy up with his book, Dark Mission. It'll have you in stitches!

Anyway, this morning as I was mapping out q'ochas in the Lake Tititcaca region I found a very curious thing. At the bottom of one particular q'ocha, I found a face. I'll assume that it was left there by the Zeta Reticulans as a sign of their presence. *he-he-snicker-snicker*

Hoagland, eat your heart out! Oh, and stop trying to pass yourself off as a scientist.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A message for Brad Dacus

While browsing God's news site last Friday, I came across this article. It's supercharged with typical fear-mongering and Protestant rhetoric. Anyway, I have a message for Brad Dacus. I want you to read the following excerpt from the Constitution of the United States of America:

Bill of Rights

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Now, I want you to read the following transcription from the 44th Presidential Inuaguration, when Pastor Rick Warren stated the following:

"Let us pray.

Almighty God, our father, everything we see and everything we can't see exists because of you alone. It all comes from you, it all belongs to you. It all exists for your glory. History is your story.The Scripture tells us Hear, oh Israel, the Lord is our God; the Lord is one. And you are the compassionate and merciful one. And you are loving to everyone you have made.

Now today we rejoice not only in America's peaceful transfer of power for the 44th time. We celebrate a hinge-point of history with the inauguration of our first African-American president of the United States.We are so grateful to live in this land, a land of unequaled possibility, where the son of an African immigrant can rise to the highest level of our leadership.

And we know today that Dr. King and a great cloud of witnesses are shouting in Heaven. Give to our new president, Barack Obama, the wisdom to lead us with humility, the courage to lead us with integrity, the compassion to lead us with generosity. Bless and protect him, his family, Vice President Biden, the Cabinet, and every one of our freely elected leaders.

Help us, oh God, to remember that we are Americans, united not by race or religion or blood, but to our commitment to freedom and justice for all. When we focus on ourselves, when we fight each other, when we forget you, forgive us. When we presume that our greatness and our prosperity is ours alone, forgive us. When we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the Earth with the respect that they deserve, forgive us.

And as we face these difficult days ahead, may we have a new birth of clarity in our aims, responsibility in our actions, humility in our approaches, and civility in our attitudes, even when we differ.Help us to share, to serve and to seek the common good of all.

May all people of good will today join together to work for a more just, a more healthy and a more prosperous nation and a peaceful planet. And may we never forget that one day all nations and all people will stand accountable before you.

We now commit our new president and his wife, Michelle, and his daughters, Malia and Sasha, into your loving care. I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life, Yeshua, Isa, Jesus, Jesus (hay-SOOS), who taught us to pray, Our Father who art in heaven hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen."

I want you to close your eyes for a moment, and envision an imam in place of Rick Warren. Or a rabbi, a wiccan, or even a satanist. It makes you angry, doesn't it? The anger that's burning inside of you? Your fists clench, your pulse quickens, and you've become enraged. Now, you have become incensed at the thought of anyone but a Christian leading a prayer at the inauguration.

Do you see now, why there is a need for separation of church and state?

At the Inauguration.

My wife, daughter, and I came back from DC last night. Yes, I was there when history was made. Among the armies of the flag-waving hopeful, I was somewhere mixed in. Yes, it was cold. I couldn't feel my toes. And I despise large crowds. 2 million people is a large crowd. But for a brief moment I felt like a weight was lifted from my shoulders; the moment when we got a new Commander in Chief. I didn't cry, but man was happy.

Anyway, now that I'm back, I'd like to recap what I learned.

1. 2 million people can make a very, very large mess.

2. If you ever go to a presidential inauguration, make sure it's at least 35 degrees.

3. In spite of the bitter cold, people don't have the common sense to put on a pair of winter boots/shoes. The Smithsonian Institution had to help the Red Cross with victims of frostbite and hypothermia. I would guess that, by noticing the numbers of people wearing sandals and clogs, and the lack of gloves, it's no wonder people were being treated.

4. If you're at the Metro, stand far away from the rail, lest you play chicken with an oncoming train. A 68 year-old woman victoriously escaped the jaws of death after nearly being crushed.

5. Even among the winds of change, leave it to a bunch of fundamentalists to try to destroy the mood. Apparently, if you voted for Barack Obama you're going to hell. I'm screwed. I'm guessing that they conveniently forgot Daniel 2:21, Daniel 4:17, Daniel 5:21, John 19:11, Romans 13:1, and 1 Peter 2:13-17. I suppose they're willing to give God a pass for voting for Obama.

6. If you don't like people jeering at your appearance, don't be a dick. In spite of what this article says, there weren't a "few" protesters at the inauguration, there were 2 million of them. Trust me.

7. Only Aretha Franklin can wear whatever the hell she wants, no matter how silly, and make it look cool.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Methane? Mars?

Over the last week I've been following the reports offered by teams of scientists from NASA and universities in the US that have confirmed the presence of methane on Mars. Creationists' pucker factors currently stand at 9.37 out of 10.

Methane is an organic compound produced through geologic or biologic activity. Scientists have long suspected the presence of methane on Mars but haven't been able to confirm their suspicions until 2003. Astronomers at the Mauna Observatory turned the Keck Telescope toward our nearest neighhbor, while NASA used infrared scopes. They were able to detect three spectral absorption lines indicating that the Martian atmosphere does indeed contain methane. I'm not ready to say just that there is/was life on Mars just yet, but the idea is tantalizing.

Click here, here, and here to read more about this story.

Astronomy rocks.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Video filled with jackassery causes stir.

A police officer with the Harmony Area High School District has been placed under administrative review after a video he produced was viewed by many parents of the surrounding communities.

The video stars Troy Fritz, who plays a wrestler/psycho/juvenile running around a high school committing acts of violence. Among the acts of violence, two gunmen firing blanks at victims in a hallway, and a woman with her throat slit.

Of course, Mr. Fritz's defenders poured out of the woodwork, claiming it's not a big deal, no one was hurt, lighten up, etc., to which I respond, this man had a gun in a high school. Blanks or not, I do believe that is against the law. I don't know which is more shocking; the idea that someone films mock murder scenes in high school halls, or the fact that an adult is running around in a yellow wrestling outfit. I'm sure his parents must be proud.

Read more about this story here. Click here to watch this cinematic stinkburger.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Looking for good astronomy freeware?

There are plenty of astronomical reference tools and software online that you can download absolutely free. But, the absolute best that I have used so far is an increasingly popular freeware called, Stellarium. Stellarium features realistic renderings of the night sky, real-time celestial motion, a catalog with 600,000 stars, and plenty of deep-sky objects. It's perfect for when you want to observe, but it's too freaking cold to go outside.

So why not take Stellarium for a spin? It's fun, educational, and doesn't cost a penny. You can download it here.

The History Channel annoys me!

As if drivel about the end of the world and the Second Coming weren't enough, the History Channel takes one more step toward complete idiocy.

As I type this, I'm watching an episode of The Universe, called "Alien Faces". The premise of this episode is to shed light on what life might be like on other planets. I'm sure that you might be thinking, "What could you possibly have against the History Channel?" Let's look at an excerpt, shall we?

This particular episode has David Aguilar, a respected astronomer with an impressive list of credentials to his name. The narrator and Aguilar begin to talk about lifeforms on a fictional planet called AG-143. Not only that, but they begin to call these lifeforms by name, like the sargun and the moblant.

Says Aguilar:
"At first sight you might almost mistake a moblant for a starfish. It has stubby little arms that it moves across the desert, but the odd thing about these arms is they have long tentacles that probe the sand for pockets of water that may be hidden. And the odd thing about this creature is if it finds a large, large pocket of water, it begins pulling the water up like it's pulling it up a well. And it grows in size, and it grows in size, and it stores the water like a camel does."
All the while, he keeps a straight face as if this were an irrefutable fact.

*rolling fingers on desk*

I don't know about you, but I'm within inches of boycotting The History Channel, TDC, and TLC altogether. They've blurred the line between science fact and science fiction so much that you can't tell the difference. I don't watch TDC to watch Bear Grylls chomping on an eyeball of an ill-fated yak, nor do I watch TLC for some sexist, egomaniacal, sycophantic control freak polluting the gene pool.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

World, meet Audra. Audra, world.

On behalf of Mr. and Mrs. David Miller, I announce the birth of their daughter, Audra Mae Miller. She was born on January 12, 2009, at 8:22 PM E.S.T, in State College, PA. 7 pounds, 6 ounces, and 20.25" long.

Doomsday! Well, sort of.

All last week the History Channel aired series after series regarding the Mayan prophecies of 2012, Nostradamus, the Apocalypse, the top ten ways Earthlings will go the way of the dodo, and (queue doom-and-gloom music) the Apocalypse. One of the things that was mentioned to put the kibosh on all of us is the caldera under Yellowstone.

Well, what a coincidence. In my news list this morning is an article about earthquake swarms under Yellowstone Lake in Wyoming. Personally, I'm looking forward to the robot apocalypse. Offer your apocalyptic opinion; take the poll on the right toward the bottom of the page.

Can we just got on with it already?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Illuminated manuscripts and DNA

The next time you go to Philadelphia, do yourself a favor and visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art. My wife and I went there a couple of years ago, and I was kicking and screaming as she was dragging me away. The place is just awe-inspiring, no two ways about it. It's one of the few times that I truly felt insignificant. We're going back in May to visit the Cezanne exhibit. I can't wait.

If anything positive ever came out of the Dark Ages, it would be the beauty that can be found in the statues, woodcuts, and paintings of the Great Masters. The very first exhibit I saw at the museum was the armory. To you and I, the butt stock of a rifle is just a piece of wood. But to a skilled craftsman 500 years ago, a butt stock is like a blank canvas. The level of detail in the swords, hammers, shields, and firearms in the armory are simply mind-boggling. After spending a few hours fawning over the arms, paintings, and sculptures, I finally took my first look at an illuminated manuscript, and my jaw simply hit the floor.

A researcher from the University of North Carolina has found a way to gather DNA evidence from these manuscripts. The data gathered will help scientists and artists alike determine where and when these manuscripts originated, as well as the type of animal skin these manuscripts were written on.

Who says art and science don't mix?

This just in!

OK, folks, get this. Remember Sam Wurzelbacher? You know, Joe the Plumber? Apparently, he's made an appeal to President-elect Obama, imploring him to support Israel, come hell or high water. This is the same guy who agreed with the comment, "a vote for Obama is a vote for the death of Israel." Even Fox News' Shepard Smith took him to task over this. When Smith grilled Wurzelbacher over his knowledge of Obama's foreign policy, he was unable to defend himself and dropped the topic like a hot potato.

Mr. Wurzelbacher has apparently gone to Israel to fill us all in on the Israel-Hamas conflict, and to keep a sharp eye on Hamas. How a news anchor can report this story and keep a straight face is a mystery.

Hell hasn't officially frozen over just yet, but the temperature there has dropped dramatically.

Read more on this charlatan's escapades here.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Bail-outs and bullshit

One day last year I was filling up my Jetta at a local Sheetz. I went into the station to pay for my fuel, and as I was walking back to my car there were three people standing next to a Chevy Silverado. One of the three spouted the typical, narrow-minded, and I'm sorry, but redneck (I can't think of a better word) mantra, "I hate foreigners, and I hate foreign cars," obviously directing his comment toward me. I replied, "Hey, this thing gets 40 MPG. How much do you get?" My question was met with silence.

Game, set, match.

If you have been watching television over the past few weeks, you may have come across any number of auto ads pushing the latest behemoth on wheels. Dennis Leary pimping for Ford's F-150, Howie Long pushing Chevrolet's Silverado, and a bunch guys of with hyper levels of testosterone getting their freak on with the Dodge Ram 1500 in the Dodge Ram Challenge. The latter is the real winner of the three: every guy is wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with some form of occupation that would be deemed "manly." Cowboy, firefighter, etc. I can only assume that the message of the ad is only real men drive trucks. Frankly, these ads insult and infuriate me to no end. I'd like to think that using your brain instead of your testosterone makes you a true man. Sadly, there are millions of men who will run to their nearest Dodge dealer and jeopardize their credit to buy one, just because of this commercial. I'm glad that I can say my masculinity doesn't hinge on the latest automotive fecal matter that rolls off of Chrysler's assembly line.

Like most people, I'm upset about the bail-outs that are being dished out by Washington. But I'm torn about the bail-outs. On one hand I say, "Screw the Big Three! It's their dishwashing liquid, let them soak in it! I hope they go belly up!" On the other hand, however, I feel there is a necessity for the bail-outs, because if they didn't go through millions of people would suffer. Not only would the employees of Ford, Chevy, and Chrysler suffer, but manufacturers of the products needed to make the cars would suffer as well, and likely go belly up. As a result, a lot of people would be put out of work, and not be able to put food on their table or a roof over their heads.

Personally, I blame the CEOs and engineers for holding out on us. We can send a man to the moon, create satellite communications, GPS, the Internet, cure diseases, and even create synthetic molecules in a lab that can evolve. But, damned if we can build a truck that can get 40 MPG!

Ford Motor Company Europe has released the Fiesta Econetic, a car that gets at least 65 MPG. You would think that with the public demanding such a car to ease their fuel bills, FMC would be tripping over themselves to get this car onto US soil. But wouldn't you know, they can't afford it. But they can pump billions of dollars into research to make the biggest, baddest F-150 to date. Oh, and this monstrosity. Yeah, I still don't get it. If you own an one of these things, you know deep down inside there is no way you can justify owning one. Period.

GM produces SUVs with technology that improves fuel economy through hybrids like the Cadillac Escalade, Chevy's Tahoe, and the Yukon. They'll be happy to tell you that the hybrid technology that goes into these vehicles will offer a paltry 20 MPG on the highway. But what they don't tell you is that the size of the vehicle has actually increased, practically negating any advance in fuel economy. Even the cupholders in SUVs are getting larger, a testament to the American waistline. I can't help but wonder why, if GM really wants to make an impact on increasing fuel economy, they can't transfer this technology into something like the Chevy Cobalt. By the time Chevy releases the much anticipated Volt around in 2010 along with a slew of electric hybrids from Chrysler, Ford, as well as GM, Toyota and Honda will be three steps ahead. As usual.

And the fat cats in Detroit have the audacity to crawl on hands and knees, begging for hand outs from the Feds.

Toyota has announced plans to introduce a battery-operated car to the US market. Personally, I'm glad. Toyota is no perfect angel when it comes to increasing fuel economy, but at least Toyota has their finger on the pulse of the American consumer. I showed my wife a picture of this car, and she stated that it looks like a roller skate with a roof on it, which earned a laugh. She's right, but in a place like State College, a car like this would a welcome sight for sore eyes. But you don't have to wait for Toyota to bring an electric car to the US. It's already here.

So in the meantime, listen up, Big Three! You've had decades to fix this problem. But all you've done is waste time, floundered your research, squandered your money, pandered to the braindead troglodytes of the far right, and helped lead this country's economy down the toilet. Toyota, Volkswagen, Honda, even Zenn and Tesla are listening to those of us with sensibility, and they're coming to take your market away. One day when you all stop fellating each other and offer us a car that we can all be proud of, then maybe, maybe we'll talk. Until then, I'll stick to my Jetta.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Remembering Hypatia

Author Brian Trent recently released a novel based on the life of Hypatia titled, Remembering Hypatia. Until recently, I had never heard of Hypatia, but now that I have, I'd like for you to hear about her story, too.

Hypatia was a Greek mathematician and astronomer, a woman who believed in reason and logic in an age of rampant mysticism. Born in Greek Egypt, she was the daughter of Theon Alexandricus, who was the last known mathemetician at the library of Alexandria. Her accomplishments include compiling celestial maps, writing The Astronomical Canon, and possibly creating the hydrometer. It is also suggested that Hypatia created the astrolabe.

In 415 A.D., Hypatia was taken by force by Christian monks to Caesareum in Alexandria, where she was cut to pieces by oyster shells, and subsequently incinerated. Jealousy, rage, whatever the case may have been, Christianity once again raised its ugly head to silence the voice of reason and curiosity. Her death marked the beginning of the Dark Ages, and the search for knowledge took a nosedive for the next 600 years.

You can read about Hypatia's story here, here, and here. Click here to learn more about Remembering Hypatia.

Thank you to Brian Trent for giving this great woman well-deserved, long overdue recognition by the rest of us who seek truth and knowledge.

Monday, January 5, 2009

A brief word on church

Every Sunday, millions of the faithful darken the doors of their nearest house of worship, yet most, if not all of them, have no idea where the word church comes from. If they spent any real amount of time doing any real research into the etymology of the words used in religion, particularly Christianity, I would dare say that the faithful would lose their faith, nearly overnight. The bad news is, people don't want their faith shaken. The good news is, people are slowly starting to wake up as a result of their faith being shaken. They're angry. And that makes me happy.

So what about church? What does it mean? Where does the word come from? Is it even important? To better understand the concept of church, we should break the word down into two categories; the first being a building where people go to worship, the second a gathering of people. Let's take a look at the physical structure first.

The word kuriakon, or kyriakon, is Greek, and literally means, "The house of Kurios (Lord)." No big deal here. Now let's take a look at the variation of church that relates to a gathering of people, starting with a brief glance at the Tyndale Bible.

The Tyndale Bible is the first English bible, and was translated in the mid 1520's. It is named after William Tyndale, a Protestant reformer, who was burned at the stake in 1535 for heresy. Tyndale's translation, however, never used church to refer to any kind of Christian gathering or a building, but rather assembly or congregation. It does, however, refer to church as a place where pagans gathered in honor of their gods and goddesses, and can be read in Acts 19:37. Although most other biblical translation means temple, the original Tyndale translation is church. In this passage, the deity being referred to is Artemis, Greek goddess of fertility (of course), hunting, and the forests. Her Roman counterpart is Diana.

At any rate, the word church was used to describe pagan houses of worship, and it slipped through the radar of modern christendom. In the New Testament, the term used for a gathering of people is the Greek word, ekklesia, and is interpreted as, "calling out," or "a gathering," while the Jewish equivalent for ekklesia is qahal. Although the term generally applies to Christians, it also held true for gatherings of pagans in antiquity.

Ahh! The plot thickens!

Today, the word we use to describe either a gathering of the faithful, or a physical structure where they meet, is church. The Anglo-Saxon word for church is kirk. The root word for kirk, is kirke, or circe. The origin of the word circe is the Greek goddess/temptress/sorceress, Circe, mentioned in Homer's Odyssey, written around 800 B.C.

Circe was the daughter of the Greek solar god Helios, and Perse, an oceanic nymph. Circe had the power to allure men into her home, where she would offer them potions that would turn them into animals, often forcing them into a life of servitude. This description resembles the church as it is today; a place where people are turned into mind-numbed servant pets of society.

Circe's name derives from the Greek word, kirkoo, meaning "to secure in rings." I'm still scratching my head over that one. Circe also had the power to tame the roaming beasts around her island home. Interestingly, Circe's name is responsible for many of the words that we use today, including circle, circa, and circus.

Anyway, I'm done ranting. If you're a church-goer, please start to question what your priest/pastor is telling you, and stop believing everything you hear on Sundays. It annoys me.