Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Maybe it's the years raised in a primarily catholic home talking.
Maybe it's the traditional (fake) Christmas tree, with its star trek ornaments mixed among armies of santas and hosts of angels.
Maybe it's the music, with all it's cheesy traditional goodwill.
Maybe it's seeing my uncle, my aunts, and my parents again.

I don't really know what it is exactly that does it, but I really like Christmas.  For some it's a celebration of the birth of their manifest deity, while for others the season celebrates the shortest day of the year and the return of the sun.  Be it Yule, or Christmas, or Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, for many it's a deep religious celebration.  For me, and many others, it's a celebration of togetherness, of family and friends, and of love.  For all the stress, and rampant commercialism, and rampant religious fundamentalism, it still has that joyous allure for me, and while I'm right there with my fellow atheists in arguing for separation of church and state, and demanding we respect all the different traditions during this time while keeping the "christ" out of "christmas," as that special day nears I find myself caring less and less about the politics of it and more about that simple togetherness.

I'll be seeing my Uncle this Christmas Eve.  My uncle is fun, and I love seeing him every Christmas.  He's also a fundamentalist conservative Christian.  He's also a former hippie.  He's ridiculous in so many ways, yet I still love seeing him.  Every year there's worry of drama, of him finally confronting me, of me finally telling him that I'm an atheist and I don't give a damn about his stories of my miracle birth due to his prayers, or of us simply going at it over the dinner table as we argue one way or the other.  It hasn't happened yet, even though I've been a nonchristian for many years.  Does he know I'm not christian?  I think he may suspect it, but I doubt he realizes I'm a dyed-in-the-wool atheist.  Does it matter?  No, not really.  Even though there may come a christmas where we end up having that confrontation, I'm still happy to see him.  He's fun and I like him.  I like his wife, my aunt.  I like his sister, who is far more liberal and far more entertaining.  I like seeing them all, because it's Christmas.

This Christmas eve I'll be eating carrot pudding, watching A Christmas Carol (the original black and white version.  My family are purists for the classic), and enjoying one another's company.  Things will have changed.  This Christmas my grandmother won't be at her house.  I won't be obligated to take her portion of christmas dinner down to her.  She's not well and it won't be quite the same, but I'll still get to see her.  This Christmas will also bring newer blessings with it.  Tomorrow I drive to the airport to pick up my girlfriend, who will be spending Christmas with us.  She'll get to meet my parents for the first time, see the house I grew up in, and will be a new addition to my christmas tradition.  I like that.  My Christmas will be different, but it will not be bad.

Twenty years ago I cared about presents and loathed the ceremony of Christmas dinner.  I barely remember it.
Ten years ago I was still a catholic and was home for winter break after my first semester at Gonzaga.  I was going to be a famous writer one day and majored in English.
Five years ago I was so very, painfully new age, and I was just going back to school after a very long break, having left Gonzaga for various reasons.
Two years ago I was still religious, but only barely, and I had decided I loved science more than english.
A year ago I was an atheist, and knew that I loved science more than teaching.
Today I am still an atheist, and still remain committed to my goals from a year ago.  What is new is my beautiful girlfriend, who makes me feel like I can accomplish anything.

Looking around me, at the tree I decorated, at the life I had before and the life ahead of me, at the dining room table I grew up sitting at, I feel joyous.

Merry Christmas to some, and to the rest may you feel joy in whatever way you choose.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Don't give money to fetus-killers!

Ruh Roh.  Some funding from some bibles supported an organization that supports a program that happens to be put on by an organization that also sometimes provides abortions:

A Christian publisher is withdrawing copies of the "Breast Cancer Awareness Bible," from stores because the Bible helped raised money for the Susan G. Komen Foundation, which contributes to Planned Parenthood.

Oh, well, it's Planned Parenthood, and that's a bad name among Christians.  They probably put all of those funds to aborting fetuses and dancing naked in a wiccan circle, the heathens.  So I guess it's okay.

"Though we have assurances that Komen's funds are used only for breast-cancer screening and awareness, it is not in keeping with LifeWay's core values to have even an indirect relationship with Planned Parenthood," he said
Oh, so the money's all going to breast cancer screening and research?  Well...but it is Planned Parenthood, and they're evil bastards, what with the aborting and promoting promiscuity and whatnot.  Just fund some other company doing breast cancer screening and research.

"In all cases, Komen funding is used exclusively to provide breast cancer programs, including clinical breast exams conducted by trained medical personnel," stated the release. "It's important to note that Komen will only make grants to non-profit organizations. As many mammography providers are for-profit entities, we are only to fund mammography services through grants made to local non-profit service providers."

As long as there are vulnerable communities in need, said the release, "Komen will fund the facilities that can best meet those needs."

So you're saying that you really just went for the group that's going to do the most good in the community?  Well, okay then, but still, our Bible-money shouldn't go to such an evil, underhanded organization, no matter how much good it does!

The Komen Foundation issued a statement Thursday afternoon contending that there were "no dollars going to Planned Parenthood programs" from sales of the Bibles.

So basically the Bibles were pulled from the shelves because a portion of proceeds went to an organization that redistributed said funds to nonprofits that would help with breast cancer screenings, awareness, and the all-important research....but that organization sometimes put funds into Planned Parenthood-sponsored breast cancer clinics.

How very righteous of them.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Antivaccination: how Low Can you Go?

Obviously lower than one might originally think, with books like this:

Since when were Measles "marvelous?"  It's one thing to make fallacious arguments about vaccinations, it's another to take those arguments and use them to teach children to embrace potentially life-threatening diseases.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Flu Vaccine: Dishonest stat-skeptics

Well, I haven't found anyone else writing about this, probably because it's downright silly, but there's some people out there arguing that the seasonal influenza vaccine is only 1.5% effective.

Specifically, what happened is that a study published in the prestigious journal The Lancet revealed that flu shots provide only “moderate protection” against the flu, and in some seasons is altogether “reduced or absent.”
Specifically, the Lancet said the vaccine is about 59 percent effective. But when you break the numbers down statistically, what it really works out to is that the vaccine prevents flu 1.5 times out of 100.
That’s right. Using the Lancet’s own numbers, statistics show that the vaccine only works 1.5 times out of 100.
Wow.   Sounds pretty damning, and if it were actually true, I might have to rethink my position on the flu vaccine debate.  What we have here is very creative statistics.  The link they provide regarding the 1.5 times out of 100 effectiveness goes to a letter to the editor written by "J.L. Craig, BSN, PhD."  I'm fairly certain the individual in question is one Jennifer Craig, who has written several books against vaccinations and is now retired, so I haven't had much luck on a cursory search of PubMed to see what kind of research she did.  One of my favorite authors over at science-based medicine did a book review of a bunch of anti-vax books, and one of hers was critiqued (It's #6 if you care to get his impression).  She's very clearly anti-vax from her statements, and if this is the same individual then there's some clear bias going in.  That's fair, though, I have clear bias towards vaccination.  Let's look instead at the statistical ploy she uses in her letter:

... let’s examine the study to see how this spin transpired.
This was a meta analysis, meaning that the researchers used data from 28 previously published random controlled trials between 1967 and 2011. The control group, n=13,095, consisted of non-vaccinated adults who were monitored to see if they got confirmed influenza. Over 97 per cent of them did not. Only 357 got flu which means that 2.73 per cent of these adults got the flu in the first place.
The treatment group comprised adults who were vaccinated with a trivalent inactivated influenza vaccine. According to the study, 1.18 per cent got the flu.
The difference between these two groups (2.73 – 1.18) is 1.5 people out of 100. In other words, the flu vaccine did nothing for 98.5 per cent of adults in the studies.
Now in all fairness, she is technically correct.  In those studies 98.5% of people who had the flu shot were unaffected.  They were either already not going to get the flu shot or they got the flu even after having gotten the shot.  Only 1.5% of the people who got the flu shot benefited directly from it.

Does this mean that the flu shot was only 1.5% effective?  Well, no.  Let us say that, in some hypothetical world, a flu vaccine was developed that was perfect.  If you got this vaccine, you were guaranteed not to get the flu.  Not a single person got sick.  We would all agree that this shot was 100% effective.  If you got it, you wouldn't get the flu.  According to her statistical analysis and assuming the same morbidity from the study, the difference between vaccinated and unvaccinated would be (2.73-0.00) or 2.73 people out of 100.  So even with an absolutely, 100% perfect flu shot, it would still do nothing for 97.27 per cent of the population.  Does that mean the shot was only 2.73% effective?

The problem here seems to lie in the numbers.  Our puny mammalian brains have trouble comprehending numbers and making them work.  That's why it's easy for people to get confused by billions vs millions and for us to see a vaccine that cuts the number of infected people by more than half as "only 1.5% effective."  Statistics are easy to manipulate, and it's very easy to use numbers to make your case sound better.

What really gets me is Dr. Craig goes on to accuse the cdc of lying with statistics:

So where did the media get 60 per cent effective? It’s called lying with statistics. First you take the 2.73 per cent in the control group who got flu and you divide that figure into the 1.18 per cent of the treatment group who got the flu. This gives you 0.43.
You then say that 0.43 is 43 per cent of 2.73 and claim that the vaccine results in a 57 per cent decrease in flu infections. This becomes the 60 per cent effectiveness claim.
Erm, Hi.  Pot, Kettle.  Perhaps you've met?  If we really wanted to lie with statistics, we would argue that, since only 1.18% of vaccinated people get the flu, the flu shot must be 98.82% effective.  Now there's some blatant dishonesty for you.

One thing that's also difficult to work with here is that none of these studies involved working with the flu at pandemic levels.  60% efficacy only means a percentage of the population when flu levels are fairly low, but should they reach levels such as in 1918, where roughly 500 million were infected, that means 250 million people avoid the flu if they were all vaccinated.  (At the time that's roughly 30% of the population...that would mean, hopefully, that only 15% of the vaccinated population would get sick).  This is all hypothetical, of course.  More studies would be needed.  Further, the presence of protective immunity may also further reduce the number of people who get sick from the flu.  The higher the number of vaccinated people and the better the vaccine, the greater the herd immunity.  We like herd immunity, since it means the immunodeficient get some protection as well.

I will say one last thing: the mercola article is correct in pointing out that this lancet study showed zero efficacy in some seasons.  That happens.  It's always an educated guess as to which strains of influenza will hit us from year to year, and it would be unreasonably costly to vaccinate us from every flu strain we're aware of.  Even then, it might mutate into something we're entirely unprepared for.  That's part of why we will probably never beat the flu the way we beat smallpox.  I wouldn't ever argue that the flu vaccine is perfect, or even close to perfect.  The only argument I make is that it's the best defense we currently have against a virus that has a proven history of causing pandemic level infections in our population.  You may disagree, and that's fine.  I'm certain I'll get at least one comment arguing that the flu vaccine is bad or, at the very least, unnecessary, and that's fine, too.  My biggest beef is only when others take statistics that say "well, maybe it's only 60% effective instead of 78%" and instead argue that the flu shot has been proven to be pointless.  Don't do that.  It's dumb.

Further Reading:

Mark Crislip on Flu Vaccine Efficacy

WebMD Flu Vaccine FAQ

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Reason clouded by hate.

There are days I really dislike some of my fellow atheists.  This is one of those days.

During Skepticon (a convention I really wish I could go to one year), a Gelato store owner a block away posted this obviously offensive, mockworthy sign.
Skepticon is not welcomed to my Christian Business
This emphasizes my previous complaint about atheists being treated as vile, untrustworthy, generally-not-nice people, and when I first saw the blog post displaying the photo my immediate reaction was to laugh, discount the guy as a bigot, and move on with my day.  I gave it no more thought until I saw this (apparently) genuinely honest apology from said store owner.

To the World:

Hello, my name is Andy and I’m the owner of Gelato Mio, a gelato shop located in Springfield, Missouri. There has been quite a lot of buzz and discussion concerning a picture of the sign I briefly posted in my front window Saturday evening. I’d like to take this opportunity to tell my story and offer a heartfelt apology to your community. I messed up, plain and simple. This is NOT an excuse, but how it happened from my perspective.

I decided to welcome the convention downtown by offering the attendees 10% off their purchases at my store. A lot of the group from the convention were stopping by, being very polite and enjoying my Gelato. Saturday night started out as a great night. Once the store slowed down, I decided to walk down the street to learn more about the convention, fully thinking it was something involving UFOs (“skeptics”). What I saw instead was a man conducting a mock sermon, reading the bible and cursing it. Instead of saying “Amen”, the phrase was “god damn”. Being a Christian, and expecting flying saucers, I was not only totally surprised but totally offended. I took it very personally and quickly decided in the heat of the moment that I had to take matters into my own hands and let people know how I felt at that moment in time.

So, I went quickly back to my business, grabbed the first piece of paper I could find, wrote the note and taped it in my front window. This was an impulsive response, which I fully acknowledge was completely wrong and unacceptable. The sign was posted for about 10 minutes or so before I calmed down, came to my senses, and took it down. For what it’s worth, nobody was turned away. I strongly believe that everybody is entitled to their beliefs. I’m not apologizing for my beliefs, but rather for my inexcusable actions. I was wrong.
Guys, I really don’t know what else I can do to express my apologies. I’ve received dozens of calls and hundreds of emails since the incident, and have done my best to reply to each and every one and express my regret for what happened. For the thousands of you whom I’ve offended, I sincerely apologize. I hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive me. This is me as a human being sincerely apologizing for my actions.
To those of you who accept my apology, Thank You; it means a lot. To those of you who haven’t, I hope you will. I’m just a 28 year old small business owner who made a big mistake. I hope you see that I have not made any excuses, I’ve owned up to what I did, and I apologize.

For what it’s worth, an Atheist reached out to me to help me work through all of this and contact your community directly. I graciously accepted his offer.

I will give everyone who comes to my store this week 10% off as a token of my apology. Really, what’s more universal than ice cream?

Sincerely, Andy
Good for him.  Maybe it's clever PR trying to get past the stigma he placed on his shop, but it seems to me like the guy had a gut reaction, overreacted, and wanted to express his apologies for being a douchenozzle.  I think most reasonable people would take it at that, understanding that when we get offended, we tend not to think rationally.  This isn't a christian condition, so much as it's a human condition.  If someone attacks something you value, the first reaction is almost always to go on the defensive.  I know I have on more than one occasion, and I've seen it in my believer and nonbeliever friends.  This is part of my issue with the notion of the sacredness of anything.  If we allow ourselves to be offended by ill-treatment of objects, it clouds our judgement and keeps us from being logical about the issue.  He was affected by this ill logic due to the mistreatment of his sacred book, and overreacted.  The logical response was to understand, shrug it off, and move on with our lives.

PZ Myers doesn't agree:
There is an asymmetry here. GelatoGuy lives in one of the most religious countries on earth, in a particularly intensely religious part of that country, and in a moment of smug self-righteousness, felt he could openly discriminate against people who do not respect his beliefs. And now he thinks he can walk away, forgiven, and return to his blithe happy Christian pocket universe, just by saying a few words. And we, of course, will turn around and think he’s a nice , sincere, classy guy.

Meanwhile, we will still be regarded as the least trustworthy minority in the country; we still have to deal with the fact that we are excluded from the political discourse; we still have to walk into courtrooms with the ten commandments on display; we have to watch these nice, sincere, classy people elect gay hating bigots, anti-science know-nothings, and flaming misogynists to high office…but hey, they’ll apologize to our faces when they risk losing our business. And then go back to church to listen to their priests fulminate against the godless, go into the voting booth and vote against civil rights, go to their school board and piously try to ram their faith into our children’s faces.
I understand his rage.  Christianity as a whole has a very cushy position in America, and the kind of discrimination he displayed is fairly common in certain parts of the US.  Atheism as a movement is regarded poorly, and people think poorly about us.  Yet it seems that PZ and others have lumped all Christians into the same category: people in Jesus-bubbles who can't see atheists in any kind of positive light.  I understand that sentiment, too.  My own mother had the emotional reaction that she was a failure as a parent because I turned to atheism.  Eventually she came to understand and respect my decision, and we're past that point, but that gut reaction is a common problem that many believers share.  Becoming an atheist is like becoming a convicted criminal to many.  You've gone down a notch in the quality of your character by becoming one.

So yes, PZ is very much in the right to be offended, but the offense of the many does not justify disrespecting a single man who, while somewhat prejudiced against us, openly admitted that what he had done was wrong.  Whether he feels we're immorally bankrupt, he acknowledges that treating us like second-class citizens is inappropriate.  No one should discredit this man for being offended.  He has the right to be offended.  Hell, he should have been.  From what I understand, it was intended to be an offensive piece.  He made a really dumb, bigoted mistake, and owned up to it.  What's more awesome than that?

I really like "friendly atheist" Hermant Mehta's take on it:
No one’s letting Andy off the hook for being a bigot. He still disapproves of atheism. Who cares. The point is that he (now) knows that his act of discrimination was wrong. We ought to show some appreciation when someone admits they made a mistake, even if the person isn’t completely on our side of the big picture. The next step is to get him to realize why there’s nothing wrong with what was said at Skepticon in the first place, but that’s a separate battle.

What I don't like is what one of his commentors said:
I completely disagree that this makes everything okay. Say he heard that Pride Day was going on and thought it was some patriotic gathering; he instead saw gay couples kissing, and subsequently banned them from his establishment as a kneejerk panicked response? That would not be quickly forgiven, likely by many; why should this be treated any differently when the bigotry was just as real?
I see a couple of key differences here.  The first is that gay couples kissing is not designed nor intended to offend, just as skeptical people sitting down and talking about the flaws of religion or generally making logical arguments are not designed to offend.  The second is that yes, I think the example she gave here should be treated with the same level of forgiveness.  People can be dumb and bigoted, and cutting them off doesn't give them the exposure to get past those prejudices and move past a place of ignorance and into a place of knowledge.  PZ may think people should be confronted with full-frontal atheism from the get-go...

Perhaps, on the schedule, we could print little chili peppers next to the titles of the talks? No peppers means it will praise Jesus, five peppers means the content will send any Christian listeners straight to hell?

I find this whole idea far more offensive than what GelatoGuy did — it is atheists and skeptics rushing to self-censor themselves, to mark some of their ideas as publicly shameful, and to acquiesce to ignorant public opinion. I’m not going to support that kind of behavior at all: sure, welcome the public, including delicate Christians like GelatoGuy, to the event, but don’t coddle them. This is who we are. Be proud.

...and I can appreciate that sentiment.  Yet it's not offensive to suggest that he first listen to a milder voice of atheism.  People view atheists as belligerent, condescending assholes, and the best way to break a prejudice like that is to show someone an example of an atheist who isn't a belligerent, condescending asshole.  We can be proud of who we are yet also be reasonable people, starting with little baby-steps and moving onto the great leaps of grokking our ideas.  I became an atheist because of reasonable people who didn't push me, followed by belligerent assholes who challenged me.  I think there's plenty of room for the dicks of the atheist community just as there's room for the "accomodationists," and for PZ to think that being accomodating and friendly is worthy of rage is deeply offensive and, dare I say it, foolish.

There's got to be a middle ground somewhere.  There's room enough in this movement for the obnoxious and the soft-spoken, for the belligerent and the peaceful, for the offensive and the accomodating.  Yet even the most obnoxious shouldn't look at a man's apology as a reason to condemn him.  Give him a bloody chance to grow from this experience and realize that being an atheist doesn't make us immoral, indecent, or evil.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Here we go again.

A friend on facebook posted a link to a new study showing just how much everyone hates us atheists, arguing that this hatred stems mostly from distrust.  I wouldn't have felt the need to comment on this originally; it's a sad but true fact that people distrust atheists, that we're one of the most hated groups in the world, yadda yadda yadda.  Then I saw this part of the study:

 this description — of an individual who commits insurance fraud and steals money when the chances of detection are minimal — was only seen as representative of atheists and rapists, and people did not significantly differentiate atheists from rapists.
Read the link presented by the Friendly Atheist to see the whole scenario, but I promise you it doesn't paint a good picture.  It doesn't say "oh, all people think atheists are awful," but it does say when people make logical fallacies of inference, they view us as just as awful, immoral, and corrupt as a rapist.

This is unacceptable.

Why is it that we live in a world where belief in an unproven and to some degree unprovable phenomenon is the mark of good morality?  Why are we constantly viewed as cesspools of greed and villainy, time and time again?  I've been spared the bulk of this treatment on most cases.  I'm fortunate enough to be surrounded by friends and people who either are also atheists or, at the very least, are areligious.  Yet even still it happens.  I've been told before that my atheism is just a phase, and I made my own mother ask her friends if she was a failure when I "came out of the atheist closet."  She came to respect my decision over time, and I respect her for that, but then there are other, more recent examples.

When my girlfriend and I "went public" with our relationship, linking our profiles on facebook, one of her coworkers came to her and said, "Oh my god, Erin, did you know that your boyfriend is an atheist?"  It's funny, but also more than a little sad.

Ok, I'll admit, this is probably coming across as a little more angry than it ought, but I hate this.  Still, The Friendly Atheist offers good advice, advice to enact change.

Let’s say all of this is accurate. How do we counteract the negative perceptions about us?
Two ways.
First, we have to continue doing community service — serving at food banks, donating to charity, giving blood, etc. Show people that we can be good without god.
Second, we have to let people we trust know that we’re atheists. People think poorly of atheists because they don’t think they know any. It’s a shock to their system when they find out someone close to them doesn’t believe in a god… so shock them! Let them know that someone they already trust is an atheist.
Those two things would do more to reverse the results the researchers found in these studies than anything else I can think of.
So yes.  Friends, I am an atheist.  And yes, we do good deeds not because people are watching, but because it is fundamentally the right thing to do.  The reward is in the success and goodwill of our entire species, because I do have faith.  I have faith in the heart of humanity, in our dedication to others, and I have faith that most people do good deeds not because they are afraid of eternal punishment or hope that they'll "get their reward in heaven," but because it's the right way to act.

And if you think that fear of hell will persuade anyone any more than fear of prison will, I've got a plot of land on the moon I'd like to sell you.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Virus and the Sanctity of Life

This paper, below, was a project for my Virology class.  I really wanted to go into more detail, but she specifically asked for around one page and I found, if I tried to talk about any other aspect of this debate, that I ran well over that limit.  So am I overall happy with the paper?  Well, no, not really.  Do I think it's reasonable for being limited to a page?  You bet'cha.  Let me know what you think!

Oh, the prompt was simply, "Are Viruses Alive?"  We had to take a side, though I'd like to place them pretty firmly in the "kinda sorta" category.
                Characterizing viruses as alive or nonliving presents a very real challenge in modern biology; one must, before taking a stance, come with a functional definition of life that can clearly delineate living from the near-living.  This presents a problem, as we don’t really have a definition that accomplishes this.  We know to some extent how life functions, but have difficulty coming up with a clear, concise definition that excludes all things dead yet includes all living things.  The task would be easy if not for the strong societal connotation that “alive” bears.  You can see it permeated throughout our culture.  The 1980s movie Short Circuit focused heavily on this idea, featuring a robot that had argued for his own sentience with such clever catchphrases as “Number Five is alive!”  Humans are overly concerned with the notion of “living” when we actually tend to mean “sentient” or “self-aware.”  Rare is the person who cares if we kill a colony of bacteria, but human life or, to some, animal life bears greater significance.  This concern for the existence of sentient, feeling organisms seems to charge “life” and its variants with a connotation that can impede our efforts to define it. 
                We commonly consider an organism “alive” if it has a metabolism, responds chemically to its environment, maintains a separation from itself and its environment, and is capable of reproduction.  This definition carries with it many problems, as no single characteristic is exclusive to life, and some may, in fact, exclude forms of life.   A man who is infertile is not capable of reproducing more copies of himself (save at a cellular level), but is still considered alive.  A house has clear boundaries, but is quite dead.  A car has a form of metabolism, and nearly everything can respond chemically to their environment in some fashion or another.   A better definition of life must be more specific to have any relevance to biology.
 We know a few things about what we define as life.  All clearly categorized living things have a genome, a code of instructions that can be replicated by the organism.  This genome also undergoes a process to create proteins based on that genome (traditionally transcription followed by translation), which can be used for a variety of purposes.  These features function elegantly, but their function seems little more than that of a machine.  The genome is the programming code, the proteins created by that code are the gears (enzymes and cell signaling proteins), and while capable of some self-repair there comes a point when the machine is no longer capable of functioning.  In machines we might call it simply “irreparably damaged” or “junk.”  In life we call it “dead.”  A “living” machine must be organic and utilize a genome, certainly, but that makes it a category of machinery, not a classification separate from it.  Viruses are merely simpler organic machines.  They are capable of a set of processes defined by their genomic code, and have a point where they can no longer function.   By this presented argument, viruses are alive.  A bacterial spore has little to no function, but is still considered alive since it can be viable years after encysting.  If we accept these simple spores as alive, then a virus, which may like smallpox remain dormant for years and still be virulent, should be considered alive.  A prion, carrying no genetic code but being a peculiar infective result of that code, would not be considered alive.   It is a rogue cog in the machinery of life, causing significant damage yet holding no heritable, reproducible advantage or capability. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Smut for Smut?

I'm conflicted on this in a lot of different ways:

At the University of Texas San Antonio campus, a college atheist group is offering students pornography in exchange for Bibles, Korans, or other religious texts. The group, Atheist Agenda, calls the exchange "Smut for Smut".
Group members claim that the Bible and other religious texts are just as as smutty as any pornography. According to the group, the Bible contains all sorts of misogyny, violence, torture and questionable sexual practices.
My first reaction to this activity was amusement, I'll admit.  There's nothing better than irreverence in comedy, and I find many things offensive to be quite funny, really.  It's clever, has a catchy slogan, and overall entertaining to think about.  I'd probably trade in a bible for porn just for the shock value alone.  Let's face it: making fun of religion is funny.  If it wasn't, I wouldn't laugh my ass off every time I heard this song:

(The animation in particular makes me giggle)

That said, I also wonder if this is as inappropriate as the qu'ran burning  last year was.  The two incidents bear some striking resemblances, as both involve desecrating what people consider sacred.  Is it as tasteless, or is there a difference in that one is rife with hypocrisy and the other treats everything as irreverent?  It's a worthy question for contemplation, and one I don't really have an answer to.  The only thing I do know is that the inappropriateness is irrelevant, because both activities are and ought to be legal.  None are truly harmed by the burning of the Qu'ran or the trading of bibles for porn, and while I equally support the right of others to protest these actions, there is and should not be anything wrong with the atheist organization doing this.  Reverence belongs to the believer, and has no place in the eyes of the nonbeliever nor the government.

At least that's my take on things.  What do you think about this incident?  Kosher or not?  I haven't given it enough thought to come to a full-on conclusion yet, and I'd like to hear the input of my friends. :)  

Monday, October 3, 2011

Fly Away, Katydid

Tonight I let my Katydid free.

It's been quite a while since I've written here, so unless you've spoken to me in the last few weeks, you wouldn't know about my katydid.  I sadly don't have a great picture of her, but here's the only one that had any clarity:

Yeah, the only good shot I get, and it's of her rump.

For Invertibrate Zoology, one of our requirements was to catch and take care of some kind of invertebrate and do a report on them.  For being so interested in biology, I'm fundamentally squeamish about touching living organisms, especially invertebrates (or vertebrates that potentially bite).  It's not much of an issue with cats, dogs, or other domesticated animals.  It's the wild ones.  Maybe it's a touch of respect for their wildness, maybe it's partly an ingrained fear of injury, or maybe I'm just constantly terrified that touching them will cause them harm, like with butterflies.  It's probably a combination of the three.  Whatever the cause, the squeamishness makes me hesitate when trying to grab something, making attempts at catching much of anything a bit of a challenge.  Thankfully, my roommate and my girlfriend were both happy to help.

My roommate and I caught a grasshopper and a pine beetle while we were in the mountains, helping his family.  I say "we" caught them, but really it was almost entirely his doing.  I wandered around, feeling oafish as everything with legs and wings hopped, ran, or flew away from me.  Still, we had them, and I started doing research, hoping to get the project over with as quickly as possible.  Both died in short order.  Thankfully, less than a week later my girlfriend and I stumbled upon this beautiful creature.  Since the picture of my actual caught organism is pretty weak, I include a stock footage of the species, hoping you'll understand if I argue that she looked "just like this."

Microcentrum rhombificum, or Greater Anglewing Katydids, are the only kind of katydid typically found in Denver proper, so it was fairly easy to identify her.  I'm slow to catch bugs, and generally squeamish about handling them, so I'll admit that it was my girlfriend who was daring and clever enough to catch her.  She held the katydid in her hands all the way back to the car, a fair distance since we were out for a walk.  She commented with amusement how the insect was tickling her hands as she walked.  We eventually put her in an empty qdoba bag for the ride home, and my roommate helped us transfer her from the bag to my cage.

For the next week I studied her, becoming comfortable with her general features and habits, all the while keeping her in her cage.  I delighted when she grew eggs, and fretted over her, misting her cage frequently and adding new and various vegetation for her consumption.  The project date came and my presentation was an astounding success.  Still, over all this time I never once touched or handled her. I watched her with keen interest and adoration, but not once even tried to make contact.  The cage was a barrier to both of us, and I preferred to keep it that way.

Tonight I decided to let her go.  It was time, really.  M. rhombificum adults typically only last until the end of October, so she wasn't likely going to live much longer anyways.  I walked out to my back porch, opened the cage, and set it down on the ground, away from me and towards the wilderness that is our backyard.  She didn't move.  I picked up the cage and studied her intently.  She continued to sit there, calmly grooming her legs, seemingly uninterested in the notion of freedom.  I set it down again and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

I picked up the cage again and stared in at her.  She stared right back at me.  Building up some nerve, I reached in and gently poked her wings, hoping the contact with a big, scary predator might cause her to consider making a break for it.  Of course, my own training should have told me that katydids, aka "leaf bugs", freeze when they suspect they're in trouble, what with their masterful ability to blend in with their environment.  Surprise, surprise, she froze.

Maybe a little shake of the cage might knock her out, I reasoned.  I was afraid to knock out the eggs she'd laid, so I gently yet firmly shook the cage, letting bits and pieces of weed, leaf, and romaine lettuce hearts shake out onto the backyard patio.  No katydid.  I tried again.  Still no katydid.  A third time and still no katydid, but finally I noticed that she had started crawling to the top of the cage.  I set it down again, hoping she'd crawl out, and she did.  I knew then that it wouldn't be long before she'd fly away, and I knew I had to seize the moment.  For all my squeamishness, if I didn't handle her at least a little bit before she was gone, I knew I'd regret it.

So I held out my finger to her and she climbed on.  I didn't grab her, didn't touch her in any way.  I let her touch me.  She stood on my finger, so content that when I put my finger next to a very tall weed she made no move to depart.  She sat there for a few minutes and I had my first opportunity to really examine her.  Without the mesh of the cage between us, she was a beautiful marvel of life.  I had come to appreciate her in an academic sense, but what I felt, sitting there in the middle of the night in my boxers and a t-shirt, was far greater than simple academia.  It was raw appreciation for the brilliance of the organism that sat on my finger. You can never have that same sensation in microbiology (no matter how awesome microbes are).

Moments later she flew away, vanishing into the night.  I went downstairs, sat down on my computer, and wrote this article.

I suppose there's a metaphor in there somewhere.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


I am a sappy fool.

That's not a bad statement.  I think we as a society look too harshly on the fools in our world.  I don't think I'm an idiot, per se, just that I tend to behave and think in ways that are foolish when it comes to romance.  I toy with thoughts that are outright dumb, knowing fully well that they are dumb, and in the right moment of passion am prone to falling for them.  Sometimes I might fall for them even as I think completely and rationally about my choices, knowing it's probably not the best for my sanity or my life.  I make them because even as they are excessively foolish, they are also brilliant.

I adore romance, but not the too-serious kind.  To me the world of the heart should never be taken with too much gravitas, because such strong feelings can only be countered by a whimsical joy that pervades it.  You have to know that what you're writing, thinking, or doing is sappy, that there's a silliness to it, or the game is ruined.  To ignore the silliness in love is to risk disaster.

At least that's my take on things.  I think I've been hiding that romantic side in me for too long, not really expressing it to the world.  I've been burned many times, leaping too far or making too foolish a move at just the wrong moment, but I think in the end it was worth it.

Love, ultimately, has always been worth it.

(And no, I'm not changing my facebook status anytime soon.  I just had a long talk tonight that really put things in perspective for me.  It was good.)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

School Days, School Days...

School will soon be upon me.  As a child I might have seen the return to school with a sense of dread and fear.  Gone would be the sense of freedom, gone the days of careless play and weeklong camping trips.  These days I look with excitement.  Gone will be the sense of listlessness, gone the days of job searching and wishing I could afford to do more things.  I laugh a little as I realize I am so mad that I want to pursue effectively a career in being in school, constantly studying and refining my knowledge of the world around me.  I'm legitimately excited about this semester.  It should be fantastic.

My schedule this semester is going to be light, class-wise.  I'll be taking Virology, Invertebrate Zoology, and General Chemistry 2.  That's it.  Three classes, plus a lab.  With the way my graduation path is lined up, I'll only be taking roughly three classes a semester until I graduate.  Virology is with the same instructor I took for Genetics, and is effectively an advanced genetics course.  Since I love both the professor and the subject, it should be great.  I haven't taken a class from my Invertebrate Zoology professor, but invertebrates are interesting and I've heard good things about her.  The last class, Gen Chem 2, worries me.  It worries me a lot.  Not because I don't know or like the material, but because I don't know who the professor is yet.  The last time this happened I got stuck with one of the most boring instructors in the department, one who also happened to take roll and taught a subject I was intimately familiar with.

So this semester should be good, all told.  Add on that I'm working in the student labs (for free) doing independent research/study with my absolute favorite teacher, and this semester keeps sounding better and better!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Way to go, Matt Damon

I have to admit, I'm a big fan of Matt Damon.  Everything I've heard him say outside of acting makes me like him.  This recent video I am happy to include among the evidence for "Matt Damon is awesome:" is a libertarian organization.  I've had some people suggest I might be libertarian, but this video is evidence to the contrary.  Having (mostly) gone through the teacher program at my university, and having several good friends who are teachers, I wholeheartedly agree with Matt Damon's approach.  The idea of taking away "job security" among teachers is silly.  I don't know exactly where I stand on the pension issue, exactly, but it seems like the gut reaction most people have when there are education problems is to blame the teachers.  Yes, there are bad teachers.  Yes, we should try to figure out a way to encourage good teachers and teaching habits.  The issue is minor compared to many other driving issues in education.

I remain hopeful for education, even if I'm going going into the career anymore.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Fell Through the Cracks a Bit, didn't it?

I have nothing to apologize for, of course.  Those few amazingly awesome friends who read my blog aren't holding their breaths in eager anticipation for my next musings.  The world is not going to explode, nor implode, if I don't share my thoughts about x, y, or z.

Yet I still feel guilty for not posting over the last month or so.

Obviously the Fat Friday thing has been put on hold, mostly because I became fairly convinced that the diet does, indeed, work.  I've been experimenting with just avoiding carbs when I make my own food, but I've found it's too lax an excuse.  I'm stable at 314 (net loss of 16 lbs from starting the diet), but I haven't really changed from that weight in 3-4 weeks.  I need to go back to forcing myself to keep with the lifestyle if I want to lose weight, and I'd really like to break 300 before Christmas.  It's a silly little thing, I know, but I haven't weighed less than 300 since high school.

On the other hand, losing weight still isn't a primary objective for me or my life.  I'm convinced the diet works, and it works well.  I'm also convinced that life is too short to completely cut yourself off from the experiences you love, and if the experience you love happens to be a giant warm chocolate chip cookie with ice cream and caramel on top, well, it's not the end of the world if I deviate from the diet now and again to enjoy that.

So that's really that about the Fat Friday segment.  I suspect I'll want to write about something else for a change.  Maybe the deficit, which is terrifying me with its "low but possible chance of losing all workstudy if no one can compromise" nature.  Not tonight, though.  Definitely not tonight.

Tonight is a time for sleep.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Done with Dawkins

Richard Dawkins is an amazing writer and has contributed a great deal towards the atheist and skeptical movements.  I enjoyed several of his books and think of him as an intellectual giant, with wit and wisdom by the dozen.  What I find myself not enjoying, however, is his views outside of the narrow realm of biology and atheism.

First came last year, when he gave a speech at TAM speaking harshly about those who enjoy fantasy literature, which was mildly irritating yet overall no major issue; after all, everyone has a right to their opinion, and as weird as it seemed to me at the time I'm generally not the type of person to worry about that sort of thing.  Now, however, he's having a go against feminism, specifically Rebecca Watson of Skepchic.  It's late and I'm braindead, so I won't go into too much detail about the case, but you can read all about it here.  This include's Dawkin's response to a video she made where, almost in passing, she commented on how creepy it was that a guy invited her into his hotel room while in an elevator.  I copy and paste Dawkins' reply here:

Dear Muslima
Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and . . . yawn . . . don’t tell me yet again, I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.
Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep”chick”, and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn’t lay a finger on her, but even so . . .
And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.

One of the worst arguments you can make when dealing with issues is to point out that "someone else has it worse."  It's unfeeling and logically unsound.  I could understand if Rebecca Watson had made a giant issue about it, but having watched the youtube video this all originated with, she wasn't making ludicrous claims or expressing anything other than a side note about a guy who probably should've thought about the situation he was creating and didn't.  Dawkins' response was uncalled for.

I could add more, but I fear this may be rambly enough as it is.  It's currently 3am (and I'm feeling lonely) and my brain isn't really "on" anymore.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Freedom to be Vile

Oh Neil Gaiman, how I adore thee.  Today he wrote on his blog about the nature and necessity of free speech:

You ask, What makes it worth defending? and the only answer I can give is this: Freedom to write, freedom to read, freedom to own material that you believe is worth defending means you're going to have to stand up for stuff you don't believe is worth defending, even stuff you find actively distasteful, because laws are big blunt instruments that do not differentiate between what you like and what you don't, because prosecutors are humans and bear grudges and fight for re-election, because one person's obscenity is another person's art.
Because if you don't stand up for the stuff you don't like, when they come for the stuff youdo like, you've already lost.
The entire essay is in response to a reader asking why we should defend lolicon manga, and I agree 100% with everything he says.  I've seen lolicon in some of my searches (I'll admit a guilty pleasure in seeking out erotic-yet-not-vile doujins, and I find I have to wade through 5-10 distastful and icky ones involving lolicon, incest, or rape to find one that I don't find objectionable) and yes, it's quite gross.  I think the world would be a better place if it didn't exist, if only slightly.  Even still, I would not for a moment consider banning it or making it illegal, and would actively vote against any politician who did.

I can't make the argument any better than Mr. Gaiman did.  Go read his article, it's worth it.

Fat Friday: Everything's eventual

Starting Weight: 315.5
Ending Weight: 316.0
Net Change: gain 0.5 lbs

So another stable week.  I did cheat a lot this week admittedly for various reasons (If everyone else decided on Pizza, I'm not going to leave my friend's house just to go procure something low-carb), but I still maintained my weight this week, so that's good.  Unlike when I counted calories, I find I don't feel as guilty when I do cheat, possibly because I don't feel like this is as rigorous or demanding as counting calories.  One of my friends still thinks this diet is "bullshit," that it's really just portion control.  I only partially agree with the sentiment.  I do think it's portion control mostly, but I know from three separate times of trying to count calories that I can't portion control by counting calories or otherwise limiting what I eat.  I don't have the self-control, and I find I'm hungry more often when I eat carbs.

As an example, I used to have two bowls of cereal for breakfast most mornings.  I'd eat the first bowl, and I still wouldn't be satisfied so I'd have to get a second.  These weren't small bowls, either. Now my breakfast consists of either three eggs or two hamburgers, sans bun.  I find that, in general, I'm more sated by that smaller meal than I was with all the cereal I had.  I eat that and am legitimately not hungry anymore.  I'm not alone.  A recent study suggested that, while eating any breakfast increased satiety and helped portion control throughout the day, high-protein breakfasts showed a much greater decrease in brain activity in food-motivation centers.

So yes, I'd say I'm something of a semi-believer now.  I'll never argue its benefits with others, but I'm probably going to continue this diet past the experiment date just to continue to hold back on my cravings.  Here's to seeing what next week will bring.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Fat Friday: Down, Down, Down

Starting Weight: 318.2
Ending Weight: 315.5
Net Change: 2.7 lbs

Not too shabby a week, it would seem.  I'm continuing to lose weight at a healthy rate.  This makes me down roughly 15 lbs total since I started a month ago.  I now weigh less than I have in several years, though not by much.

Nothing else of import to present at this time.  I was distracted by minecraft all week and have only recently resurfaced for air.  The diet remains feeling sustainable as a lifestyle, which is good, and the diet seems to be reasonably successful as far as weight loss.  The biggest (and arguably overall most important) question that remains is what my blood levels look like when all this is done.  I'm less worried about the HDL and LDL so much as I am about kidney and liver functions and the like.  I think it's fine since I do still eat a fair amount of vegetables and dairy, but without the data one can't be certain.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Fat Friday: Even Steven

Starting Weight: 318
Ending Weight: 318.2
Net Change: Gain 0.2 lbs  (Hardly enough to count one way or the other)

So things are pretty even now.  I blame this week on stress, mostly.  I'm running a game of Legend of the Five Rings for some friends and for some reason I've been stressing out over making it good than I have over other games I've run.  Today's the day of the game, though, so hopefully I can relax a little bit once we've seen that.

I also haven't been exercising at all over the last couple of weeks, save some walks and whatnot.  This coming week, since I won't be spending all my time preparing for the game, I should have more time to actually hit the gym or go running or somesuch.

The low-carb lifestyle seems relatively easy to maintain so long as I don't obsess over it.  Since I'm trying to treat this now as a lifestyle and not a "diet," it means I don't stress anything regarding it.  That seems to be my biggest focus: not stressing the diet, but simply accepting it and integrating it.

Non-diet-related posts will return at some point, I promise.  This just happens to be the one thing I'm dedicated to writing about every week.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Fat Saturday?

Whoops!  I was a little busy yesterday so didn't have a chance to post this week's results

Starting Weight: 319.5
Ending Weight: 318
Net Change: 1.5 lbs

So not a very impressive week, per se, but also not awful.  I did have a cheat day as well due to the necessity of my position, so that may have been a contributing factor.  I also stole an onion ring from a friend's plate on 3 different occasions this week, but overall my carb intake is still significantly lower than my normal diet.

All of this has happened thus far without any significant exercise.  I've been active and gone on walks here and there, but I've been lax in hitting the gym.  I fully expect this is part of the problem.

And still, 1.5 lbs in a week isn't awful.  It's just not impressive.  I'm not discouraged at present, and am actually finding some aspects of this diet to be very sustainable, not as a "diet" but as a general lifestyle change.  Whether I'll continue to feel that way is up for debate.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Bastrop Case: A reasonable Request

We expected the ACLU to respond, and respond they did in a joint statement with Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Freedom From Religion Foundation:
Our organizations are deeply troubled by Bastrop High School’s long history of presenting prayers as part of the official program at graduation ceremonies. Although the Supreme Court made it abundantly clear almost two decades ago that public schools cannot include prayers as part of school events, School District officials have persisted with this practice.
Ouch.  Still, their request is fairly reasonable.  A formal apology to the student, a statement condemning the action, considering disciplining the student who recited the Lord's Prayer in equal measure with similar infractions of protocol, and use a staff member to lead the moment of silence in the future.  I think the disciplining the student is a tricky one: yes, she should be disciplined, but she's graduated now and I don't know what the school could reasonably do.  Take away her diploma?  The infraction wasn't severe enough to warrant that.  Everything else, though?  I absolutely, 100% agree.

I'm interested to see how the school responds.

Fat Friday: Broke the 320 mark

Unlike last week, I'm not going to talk in quite as much detail for this week.  I've found that, much like I have trouble tracking calories, I have an equally hard amount of time tracking the food I'm eating for more than a week or so at a time.  It's some mental disconnect that tells me (possibly due to my upbringing) that tracking what I eat is the path to madness.  My mother insisted that actually tracking calories was one of the things that really hurt her when she was trying to lose weight, and I'm careful to try and learn from her mistakes.  She also said one should never go on a weird diet since going off is extra-bad, which is why if I decide to stick with this I won't be going "off" the diet, and will be turning it into a general lifestyle, or possibly modifying it a little.

Starting Weight: 323 lbs
Final Weight: 319.5 lbs
Net Change: 3.5 lbs

That makes for a total change of roughly 10 lbs in 2 weeks (since when I started I couldn't measure on the Wii Fit with its barrier of 330 lbs).  The more accurate account from recordable results is 7.5 lbs in 11 days, or 0.6818 lbs per day.

One thing I'm wondering with this diet is if it's not the diet so much as the difficulty in procuring high caloric food. If I want to eat a sandwich, I'm cutting out 200 calories from the bread alone in eating said sandwich.  Protein seems to be more filling than carbs, which means I don't suspect I'm eating as many calories altogether.  That makes it difficult to discern if the calories in-calories out mentality is what's working or if it's legitimately something to do with the lack of carbohydrates in my diet.

Finally, I got my blood report back this week.  Here are the results:

Blood Glucose - Fasting: 79  (Normal 56-99)

Kidney Functions
Urea Nitrogen: 11 (Normal 7-25)
Creatinine: 0.88 (Normal 0.80-1.30)
EGFR: 117 (Normal >59)

All general chemicals within normal ranges

Cholesterol Total in Serum: 187 (Normal 125-200)
HDL Cholesterol: 39 (Normal >=40)     Abnormal Result
LDL: 212 (Optimal <100, Near Optimal 0-129)
Cholesterol/HDL Ratio: 4.8 (Normal <=5.0)
Triglycerides: 136 (Normal <150)

Bilirubin Total: 0.4 (Normal 0.2-1.2)
Bilirubin, Direct: 0.1 (Normal 0.0-0.2)
Alkaline Phosphatase: 52 (Normal 40-115)
GGT: 33 (Normal 3-70)
LD, Serum: 212 (Normal 100-220)
AST: 21 (Normal 10-40)
ALT: 33 (Normal 9-60)
Iron: 86 (Normal 45-225)

Blood Count Looks Fine

T-3 Uptake: 32 (Normal 22-35)
T-4 Total: 6.6 (Normal 4.5-12.0)
Free Thyroxine Index: 2.11 (Normal 1.4-3.8)
TSH, 3rd Generation: 4.49 (Normal 0.40-4.50)

So all in all I'm pretty darn healthy, blood wise.  My HDL is a little low for what the doctor would like, but my overall cholesterol is somewhat low (in the normal range though) so the ratio between good and bad isn't all that worrisome.  My kidney function is something else I'm interested in looking at as this diet progresses, as a high protein diet may not be nice on my kidneys.  My kidneys are in good shape, though, so I'm pretty sure they can handle it.

The Thyroid result was interesting, too.  It's normal like everything else (save HDL), but just barely.  The TSH was 0.01 away from being abnormal, with higher results suggesting lower thyroid function (and thus a slower metabolism).  I'm not really all that surprised about that result.  I'm normal, but just barely.

So anyways, the diet still seems to be working, but I'm not really sure how sustainable it will be.  I'm not craving carbs anymore, but I'm missing the raw convenience of them.  I miss being able to grab a burrito and just run with it, and I frankly don't know if I'll be able to sustain a diet where I can't do that once the school semester starts in the fall.  It's certainly showing it to be somewhat effective, and it will be interesting to see where I am with this diet in another two weeks.

One thing I'm starting to consider is, when this is over, switching to a lifestyle plan where carbs are okay for meals, but I avoid them in snacks or when fixing something just for myself.  That means if I go out with friends I'm not limited in choices, but I'm still lowering my overall carb intake and also keeping me from overconsuming in-between meals.  It's not something I'm going to try until after the summer's over, but it's worth considering.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Well, Golly, I guess I'm still here.

My bags were packed and everything.  Legitimately so were those of many others.

"I do not understand," said Robert Fitzpatrick, a 60-year-old MTA worker from Staten Island, said after the Rapture never arrived. "I do not understand why nothing has happened."
"I had some skepticism but I was trying to push the skepticism away because I believe in God," said Keith Bauer, who drove his family across the country from Maryland to California for the supposed Rapture to visit Camping's Oakland headquarters of Family Radio International.
"I was hoping for it because I think heaven would be a lot better than this earth," he said.

This is the danger of belief when not tempered with some logic and rationality.  I'm not against belief, only the blind faith that refuses to look at the evidence, such as Camping's previous erroneous claims.  This is a lot like the wish fulfillment hopes that the Rabbi vs Atheist debate I linked to last week talks about.  (Seriously, if you haven't gone and watched the video, it's well worth it).

Saturday, May 21, 2011

These people are awful

I don't really have anything left to add on this one.  All I can say is I'm glad I never moved to the south.  I think I'd lose hope for humanity after a week there.

EDIT: I just wanted to quote the same quote Damon Fowler wrote on his facebook page.  It seems appropriate.

"And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly."

Friday, May 20, 2011

Fat Friday: The week in review

After taking BMR tests from 8 different sites, my basal metabolic rate ranged from 2537 to 2878.1 calories per day.  As I mentioned in my original post, I am not aiming to count calories, though I am tracking them to keep record.  Ending weight was measured today, on Friday, which is why I'm not including today as part of my report.

Starting Weight: 327 lbs
Ending Weight: 323 lbs

Net Change: 4 lbs

Day 1: Monday, May 16th
I missed breakfast as I was getting blood drawn around noon, so my total caloric intake was lower than it normally would.  By the time I finished getting blood drawn, I was starving and had to walk home from the bus stop, so I stopped at Qdoba.  I ordered a naked chicken taco salad (naked as in sans the shell).  For lunch I made myself a ham lettuce wrap with cheddar cheese and mayonnaise and cut up some leftover rotisserie chicken to eat on the side along with some citrus fruits.  Dinner was a couple of cheeseburgers sans bun, steamed veggie mix, and a barbecued artichoke which didn't turn out as well as I would have liked.  Snacks involved a few more oranges and a hard boiled egg.  Total calories equalled 2,158.

For exercise, I walked the 1.5 miles to the bus stop and back again.  I remained well hydrated throughout the day (mostly because they had so much trouble drawing blood so they made me consume water virtually nonstop for 15 minutes straight).

Day 2: Tuesday, May 17th
Lots of meat, pecans for snacking, some fruit and delicious veggies.  Total calories for the day: 3481.  Percent from carbs was listed at 13%, mostly from the veggies and fruits, although I suspect I was a little off since I overestimated the vegetables with my dinner, I think.

Very little exercise today as I spent most of my day reading and preparing for a tutoring assignment I had in the evening.  Had to take an ibuprofin in the evening because I had a major headache, presumably from the lack of the carbs I'm so used to.  I've been advised this is normal for the first week.

Day 3: Wednesday, May 18th
I was bad.  Not bad in that I ate a lot of carbs, but bad in that I wasn't very thorough in tracking my food, so I'm not paying attention to the caloric total.  I had some burgers, some tuna spread out onto lettuce, hot dogs, and more nuts for snacking.  Dinner was a hot dog and a huge (200 calorie) serving of broccoli and melted cheese.  Had friends over, and I even bought them a celebratory pie and ice cream, of which I had neither.  I feel very good about that, even though I really wanted some of each.  I did have some alcohol with them, though it was rum and diet coke.  Neither of these have carbs, so that was fine.  Although I know that alcohol will slow weight loss, I feel okay with this consumption since it will help factor out alcohol as a potential variable.  If I can keep my alcohol consumption relatively constant (which is very low...a few drinks every 2-3 weeks) I shouldn't have to worry about that mucking up any results.

Still feel kinda crummy, though I also feel a little bit more energetic.  It's possible that this is because of the psychosomatic component of dieting.

Day 4: Thursday, May 19th
I've decided not to go into great detail on each segment of my meals, since I eat a lot.  Still, no major snacking, I just prepared small meals throughout the day.  Baked some chicken with a marinade involving soy sauce, olive oil, Chinese fivespice, garlic, and a little bit of cayenne pepper.  That turned out pretty well.  Total carbs for the day made up roughly 10% of my meal.

I am feeling a little bit more energetic, though I'm also noticing that when I eat, I feel almost desperate about what I'm consuming.  It's possibly because I have fewer snacks in between my meals, even though it takes more time to prepare each individual meal.

Weekly Summary
Oy, this diet is rough.  If it becomes a habit, though, it very well might be sustainable.  I'm not as dedicated to low carb as some people.  I haven't cheated from the original plan, but as I've come to understand some people kick out all carbohydrates, including the small amount from some sauces or mixes, or even avoiding things like tomatoes.  I can't do that.  Still, I'm not having too much trouble avoiding refined carbohydrates like  breads or sugars that you wouldn't find in fruits, and it seems to be having something of an effect.  4 lbs in 4 days seems pretty reasonable to me.  We'll see if it keeps up like this.