Just Say No (aka: Obligatory Pot Post)

•January 9, 2014 • 2 Comments

Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m late to the game on this. Gimme a break, I’ve been stoned out of my mind.

In all seriousness, I think Colorado (the two states that recently legalized recreational marijuana) is absolutely doing the right thing, and are setting a model the rest of the country needs to adopt. Even more than that, these new laws don’t go far enough, but we’ll get to that later.

So Colorado has officially been mile high (good one, Krisko, excellent original joke!) for 9 days now. And, SURPRISE!, Denver is not smothered in a smokey haze. In the first week, five million dollars of marijuana was sold, and with the many taxes put on this drug, that means well over a million dollars that goes back into the state. So believe it or not, pot sales are helping pay for ridiculous things like schools, roads and representative’s money laundering.

And let’s not forget the money saved by not incarcerating people simply for lighting up. In Colorado alone, 10,000 people per year were arrested for just marijuana crimes. Take into account the fact that incarcerating someone in Colorado costs, on average, over $65,000, and legalizing marijuana is a gigantic cost-cutting measure (something conservatives should absolutely be behind).

Once again, in 49 of the 50 states this is legal:

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But this could get you up to ten years in prison:

ImagePretty fucked up, right? So now that I’ve got you completely convinced that pot should be legalized, what was I talking about earlier when I said legalizing pot doesn’t go far enough? Well, I think that use of all drugs should be decriminalized. Whoa, whoa, chill the fuck down and hear me out. I don’t think that drugs are good (for the purpose of the rest of this writing, pot and alcohol are not to be considered drugs). Meth ruins lives, cocaine causes a lot of damage to multiple organ systems, and heroin, while inspiring the best of the grunge movement, obviously isn’t good for one’s health.

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Although I’m still convinced Courtney Love was worse for his health than heroin.

So obviously drugs are bad for you. Nobody’s arguing that. I’m simply pointing out that locking people up for doing harm to themselves and not others is absolutely inane. Hell, 24% of prisoners say that it’s easy to get drugs in prison, and 6% of all prisoners go into prison without a drug problem but begin one while incarcerated. If you can’t even keep drugs out of the prisons, then what the fuck is the point of imprisoning people for drug use?

It’s not like decriminalizing drug use hasn’t been tried. In 2001 Portugal changed the use of drugs from a criminal violation to an administrative one, making possession about as punishable as a parking ticket. They realized that Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” policy is naive, and we will never rid the world of drugs, so the goal should be to minimize the damage done to people. Instead those arrested for drug crimes are treated as a health issue and are evaluated by a mental health professional. Addiction is treated as a disease, not a crime. Far from making Lisbon a tourist destination for those that want to fuck themselves up legally, what they’ve actually seen in the twelve years since this law was enacted is that addiction statistics has dropped by half (Portugal had the highest addiction rate in the EU before this law took effect).

America’s drug laws are expensive, invasive, and (most importantly) ineffective. By absolutely every metric there is absolutely no reason to keep up this War on Drugs. But our elected officials are too big of pussies to try to sell facts to their constituents, and instead prey off of their knee-jerk reactions. So while pot legalization seems to be just beyond the horizon, we’ve got a long way to go before we end these archaic laws that treat addicts like criminals. I’d say this is un-fucking-believable, but I pay attention to American politics and don’t really get shocked much anymore.

My New Year’s Resolutions

•January 1, 2014 • 4 Comments

In 2014, I pledge to…

…be more anti-social.

…steal all my music off the internet.

…invent a better pizza.

…wear more lacy black lingerie.

…invade a small country.

…eat more junk food.

…make millions in the rubber ducky industry.

…wrestle an alligator.

…find zombie Bin Laden.

…body slam a stranger.

…not forget about Dre.

…dare to stick my tongue to an icy pole.

…eat the worm.

…fail all of my classes.

…learn how to tie my shoes.

…stop being a sissy and fight the bully who keeps stealing my milk money.

…get all my belongings repossessed by the government.

…have at least one orgasm per hour.

…make the FBI’s most wanted list.

…make more enemies than friends.

…take over the world.

…find out who I got that STD from.

…start spamming people who I don’t like.

…eat my weight in fish sticks.

…teach my dogs to fly.

…procrastinate more.

…poke a badger with a spoon.

…stop exercising.

…stop working my street corner.

…get potty trained.

…shave myself from head to toe.

…bite off all my fingernails.

…make my own porn video.

…take pictures in the locker room.

…train my hamsters to hunt man.

…read less.

…get a mullet.

…wear my underwear outside my pants.

…learn how to shear sheep.

…figure out why I really need to be on seven social media sites.

…become a mail-order bride.

…purchase a carnivorous fish, but no fish tank.

…cause more road rage.

…be kinky more often.

…quit weed by taking up crack.

…go streaking more often.

…download twice as much copyrighted material as last year.

…spend all my vacations in cyberspace.

…make as many people hate me as humanly possible.

…fart in public.

…go further into debt.

…get an invisible friend.

…become one with my inner sociopath.

…start stalking my stalker.

…get married in a seedy bar.

…learn how to program a VCR.

…not strip for free anymore.

…learn the alphabet.

…bring back disco.

…sing like nobody is listening, but only in public.

…get more bang for my buck.

…get high on sharpies.

…befriend Bigfoot.

…play in rush-hour traffic.

…walk on the ceiling.

…rinse and repeat.

…lovingly care for my Chia Pet.

…forget my new year’s resolutions.

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The Origins of Life

•January 1, 2014 • 2 Comments

Now, I want to point out right off the bat that the theory of evolution does not try to explain where life originated from. However, as life needs to exist to evolve, it is a crucial stepping stone to getting where we are today. Yet whether life arose spontaneously or was placed on earth, it still evolves. So, I hope to clear up some misconceptions and put out some of the leading hypotheses about where life originated from.

Many creationists say that Louis Pasteur proved that life cannot arise from non-life. Untrue. What Pasteur really showed was that life does not currently spontaneously appear in complex form from non-life in nature; he did not demonstrate the impossibility of life arising in simple form from non-life by way of a long and propitious series of chemical steps and selections. He did not, nor has anyone else, proven that life could not arise once, then evolve.

One of the most famous experiments in delving into the topic of the origin of life was done by Urey in 1953, where he used compounds that we believe to be found on earth before life arose – molecular hydrogen (H2), methane (CH4), ammonia (NH3) and water vapor (H2O) – and running them through a system of heat, electricity and cooling processes. After a few days, Urey checked the final makeup of the brew, and discovered 7 amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. Later experiments used a more realistic atmosphere, replacing methane with carbon monoxide or dioxide (CO or CO2), and ammonia with molecular nitrogen (N2) – with similar results.

Sidney Fox successfully synthesized coascervate “cells” (a coascervate is a mixture of colloids that can, like lipids in modern cells, form a layer that will enclose molecules, but which can allow monomers to pass across it). These will, under some conditions, divide as they “grow” to form new cells.

Almost every creationist with any knowledge into this matter will at some point pull out some seemingly overwhelming statistic from astronomer Fred Hoyle that the odds of forming DNA from chance are are 1040,000 to one. There are a few problems with this “it’s statistically impossible” concept that they throw at you:
1) They calculate the odds of creating a completely modern protein or prokaryotic cell. This is not consistent with any realistic idea on the origin of life. The earliest life in all these ideas would be much simpler than even the most basic prokaryote right now.
2) They assume that there are a fixed number of proteins, with fixed sequences, that are required for life.
3) The formation of biological polymers from monomers is subject to the laws of biochemistry, which makes it much less than random.
4) They calculate the probability of sequential trials, rather than simultaneous trials. Because it’s not just one little pocket of amino acids (or whatever building block you’re using) rearranging to form the protein (or whatever molecule you’re trying to make). It’s millions upon billions of organic molecules rearranging all over earth. On the early Earth it is likely that the ocean had a volume of 1 x 1024 liters. Given an amino acid concentration of 1 x 10-6 M (on the low end of the hypothesized values for density of the soup, see Chyba and Sagan 1992), then there are roughly 1 x 1050 potential starting chains, so that a fair number of efficient peptide ligases (about 1 x 1031) could be produced in a under a year, let alone a million years. The synthesis of primitive self-replicators could happen relatively rapidly, even given a probability of 1 chance in 4.29 x 1040.

You can go more in-depth in theories on the origins of life here, or check out this easy to read chart:

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The Birth of Jesus

•December 24, 2013 • 1 Comment

This is just pointing out a few of the most notable issues I’ve found with the Jesus birth accounts, which is by no means exhaustive, but merely the ones I noticed during my study of the Bible at the beginning of the decline of my faith. While these have been well documented by many scholars, I came about these by nothing but reading the Bible about five years ago, which I then looked to outside sources to corroborate.

ImageOnly two of the four gospels, Matthew and Luke, deem Jesus’ birth to be a noteworthy event (seems pretty fucking important to me, but hey, I’m no 1st century scribe who heard this story second or third hand, so what the hell do I know?). John tells us only of the Incarnation – that the Logos “became flesh” – while Mark doesn’t say anything about Jesus until his baptism at around 30 years old (he probably didn’t do anything important in that time anyways). Certainly Mark knows nothing of the Annunciation or the Virgin Birth. In fact, Mark’s account seems to indicate there was no angelic announcement of Jesus’ birth and godliness, since in 3:30-31, Jesus’ family declare him to be “out of his mind” upon declaring himself the Son of Man. Then again, maybe Mary and Joseph were on to him.

There are discrepancies in the genealogies of the gospels, which I’ll merely link to and move on.

Luke 2 tells us that Jesus was born in Nazareth, while Matthew 2 tells us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and moved to Nazareth after his return from Egypt.

Then there’s the issue of the Roman census talked about in Luke 2. It indicates that Joseph was an inhabitant of Nazareth, yet for some reason was compelled to travel to the “city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.” This would reconcile the Nazareth/Bethlehem contradiction, but it creates even more problems. The genealogies given to us by Luke list dozens of generations between David and Joseph. It’s doubtful that Joseph would even know his genealogy going back this far, let alone which part of his genealogy to trace back (I, personally, would have no idea whether to follow my family line back to Ireland, England, Sweden, Finland, Norway, the Eastern Bloc or Northwest America). Furthermore, why the fuck would he be required to return to the land of his ancestors anyways, when a census would likely require him to register himself in the town he lives in? The only reason for a census is to count the people they want to tax. This would be a ridiculous way to conduct a census. Like, Glenn Beck for president ridiculous.

Why Intelligent Design is not Science

•December 5, 2013 • 1 Comment

Science is a tool used to describe our world, to understand why the world is the way it is, and to predict what the outcome of a mixture of characteristics may be. Science attempts to do this by studying only phenomena that are “material,” meaning countable, measurable, visible, tangible things, and by making the fewest assumptions possible. By being this way, scientists hope to eliminate faulty thinking and conclusions due to matters of opinion, professional conflict, personal experience, or biased knowledge (among other things).

Scientists approach their work by asking testable questions (hypotheses), running the tests (experiments), and by always providing within the hypothesis some means by which the hypothesis can be unequivocally disproved. Most experiments test the predictive power of the hypothesis: “If I mix chemical A and chemical B, I should get chemical C and a flash of light”, or “People who hate tomatoes also hate ketchup.”

In their experiments, scientists seek to validate their hypotheses – that is, to make observations that support their hypothesis and never once observe the evidence that disproves their hypothesis. If ever, even for a microsecond, that one thing that disproves the hypothesis is observed, then the whole hypothesis has been shown to be false. At this point, the scientist starts over with a new or revised hypothesis.

The most important point is that only one tiny little event can falsify a hypothesis: “I got chemical D” or “This person who hates tomatoes absolutely loves ketchup.” However, absolute proof can never be achieved, since there is always the chance that the single falsifying observation may have been missed.

If a hypothesis is subjected to test after test over many years and by many different people and does not fail, it will most likely be elevated to the level of “Theory.” The term “Theory” is science-ese for “we are pretty damn sure this is absolutely true, but since absolute proof is impossible by the nature of science, we’ll just call it something besides ‘absolute truth.’” This is basic scientific honesty; you can’t run every experiment or make every observation.

One of the most harassed theories today is the Theory of Evolution, which posits that all organisms on this planet are related through a common ancestor, and that it is gradual change over extreme spans of time that accounts for the diversity of species today. With this theory, we can predict and understand how and why organisms behave the way they do. If a person wants to understand why dogs, wolves, and coyotes are capable of interbreeding, but they generally don’t, one only has to look to evolution. To understand why birds’ “knees” bend backward – look to evolution. Why do we sometimes, when we’re particularly upset, find ourselves behaving like apes, and what can we do about it – turn to evolution. How can DNA from a virus infect a human cell – we’re talking evolution.

As noted earlier, science restricts itself to material knowledge. And it seeks to develop hypotheses that will assist us in understanding and predicting the nature of our world. Recently, the concept of “Intelligent Design” (ID) as been brought forward as an alternative “theory” explaining the origin of the diversity of life on Earth. The key to ID is the notion that many of the basic parts that all organisms share are too complex to have arisen from gradual change. ID proposes that some external agent or intelligence is responsible for making these critical bits.

But is ID Science? Should it be taught in a science classroom alongside the Theory of Evolution?

Well, can it be tested? Are there falsifying observations? ID could potentially be disproved by observing a more primitive intermediate form of some part that has been touted as ‘too complex’ to be natural. But then, the individual running the ID experiment can alter his hypothesis to say that this new structure is that which was installed by the Intelligent Designer. Because of this, there is no part of ID that can be unequivocally falsified by material science.

The second part of ID calls for an external Designer. This idea is neither fully supported nor fully falsified by material observation. There is no scientific way to test for the presence or absence of the Designer, as the Designer is defined as unobservable, or at least, only observable by a chosen few.

One of the most important characteristics of scientific hypotheses and theories is the predictive power they provide. ID does not offer any new explanation or observation about these complex structures that the Theory of Evolution does not already provide. The observation that some structures in organisms are too complex to have originated from gradual change will not help scientists to develop a better antibiotic, for example. In fact, the idea that “some things are too complex” is anti-scientific, since it seems to suggest that we shouldn’t try to understand the origins of the complex structures. ID discourages us from looking and asking questions. True science, however, moves on. If it is later found to be the case that some structures in organisms do not have more primitive counterparts, science will observe and recognize this fact, and the new knowledge will be incorporated into evolutionary theory.

ID is not a scientific theory and should not be taught alongside the Theory of Evolution. It offers nothing to help students understand how science works. It is merely a statement of how complex life seems to be – not even worth an hour of classroom time.

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Depression, Medication, and the Vicious Mental Cycle

•December 2, 2013 • 19 Comments

I’ve written about depression before, so some of this may seem to be out of context or to repeat itself. As with every time I talk about something person, I don’t think about it much before publishing the post for fear of self-editing to the point of losing the message I’m trying to convey or simply losing the courage to put these thoughts forward for others to read. Because of that please give me a little wiggle room to not catch typos or possible run-on sentences. Also, I’m interspersing this with many pictures because it seems less depressing to me if I do that.

The first thing I need to reiterate, for the people reading this and myself, is that mental illness is truly an illness. Depression and its miserable relatives like bipolar disorder are physical issues with physical symptoms that should be treated medically. The reason I’m bringing this up again (even though I covered it over and over in my last post about depression) is that while I know this fact, I don’t always make rational decisions based on this knowledge. Recent actions on my part prove unequivocally that:

ImageOne of the pitfalls many of us suffering with depression fall into is not taking into account the adjustment of our internal mood barometer. Antidepressants (I’m using this very broad term to cover all manner of psychiatric medication, from SSRIs to MAOIs to antipsychotics to mood stabilizers and beyond) work slowly. The first couple of days on them, they feel like they don’t work at all. It’s not like when you break your ankle and take a Vicodin… there is a very unsubtle point about 30 minutes after swallowing that pill where you go “holy shit I feel so fucking much better now.” With antidepressants the best you can do is wake up a week later and go “huh, I don’t have as much trouble getting out of bed today as I did a week ago.” Because of this many people don’t realize how much better they are really doing on their new treatment. Personally, the people around me notice it much faster than I do. I get told I look healthier or I’m smiling more.

ImageThe other, more serious pitfall we often find ourselves tumbling into head over heals is thinking we’re cured. We’ve been on our medication for months and feel so much better, we haven’t even felt depressed in weeks… obviously we don’t need these drugs anymore! Considering most of the people who read my site are at least moderately intelligent people, I’m guessing you can all spot the flaw in that logic. But in case you can’t spot it (or maybe just because I need to write this down myself as often as possible so I don’t fucking forget), we’re feeling better because of the medication we’re on. It’s just as stupid as starting a diet, losing weight, then declaring that you no longer need the diet now that you’re losing weight “all on your own.” It sounds so painfully obvious that the only reason why we’re feeling better is because of the medication, but I don’t know a single person who has been on psychiatric medications for an extended period of time who didn’t do this at least once.

Who knows why we delude ourselves about this? I can only speak for myself, and even that not so terrifically well (I’m not much of one for intraspection). The first reason is that I want, so terribly, to be normal. Hell, I remember a time not so long ago when I didn’t need medication to make it through a successful week. Then I look around and see all the shiny, happy people around me struggling with none of the shit I’m fighting every day, and I want to be like them. Of course, I consciously know that everybody has their own demons, many worse than mine. But that doesn’t change the fact that I see all these people walking around and I don’t see the struggle on their face that I feel inside.

ImageThe second reason is even more inane: I feel weak needing these pills. As much as I realize there is a chemical reaction in my brain that I have no conscious control over that needs to be treated, it still feels like a personal failing. The mental health stigma is still very prevalent in our society, and as much as I like to consider myself a freethinker, apparently my mind hasn’t severed that tie. If I were diabetic, I would never be internally screaming at myself about how only a pussy can’t manufacture insulin properly.

ImageSo I stopped taking my medications. And I got progressively more depressed. I didn’t even realize how much worse I felt until I noticed people around me constantly asking if I was OK, are you OK, you sure you’re OK, you don’t seem OK to me. I sat down and read some of the things I’d been writing for the last few weeks, and even though I was writing about things like the evolution of the shape of leaf insects or the workings of Potassium-Argon radiometric dating, I could look at my word use and sentence structure and realize that I had been getting consistently less-well in the head. So I kicked my ass, refilled my prescriptions, and am currently on the mend again. Drugs should be back to 100% effectiveness in the next few days.

So what’s the point of this post? First, it was a cathartic release for me to put these events and thoughts out to the world. Second, by writing this down I can go back and read this the next time I think maybe I’m healthy enough to go off my meds. And third, maybe it can help spare somebody else from going through this frankly idiotic self-experiment. If you still feel it’s something you have to go through, let me make a couple of suggestions. Make sure you have a friend you can talk to through this process, someone who will keep an eye on you and call you out on your bullshit of pretending you’re OK if it turns out you really aren’t. Also, keep a journal. Write down how you feel when you wake up, when you go to bed, and any particular high or low points of the day. Be brutally honest with yourself. Start the journal before you stop taking your medications. A week or so into your (misguided) experiment, read through your journal. It will give you more perspective on how to interpret how you’re doing in the here and now.

Finally, to those going through depression, realize you’re not alone. There are millions of us, even if we normally don’t go out of our way to make ourselves known. I’ll leave you all with a meme that I’ve been trying to find a proper home for awhile now. This seems as good a place as any:

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A Story of Dogma

•November 18, 2013 • 3 Comments

People are constantly asking me why I have such severe issues with religion. I very often give intellectually sound reasons. Politicians are legislating based on their personal beliefs. People use religion to justify their preconceived prejudices. Dogma stunts intellectual growth and development. These are all good reasons for my animosity towards so much of the religion in this world. What I don’t always share are some of my personal encounters with religion. Today I’d like to share one of these stories with you. Realize that I know this doesn’t represent the beliefs of all of you, or even most of you. It may not represent the beliefs of any of you, but it does represent the beliefs of some, and you’d best believe that some of you (emphasis on some) hold beliefs closer to this than you care to admit to yourself.

Many years ago, when I was struggling much harder with my neuromuscular disorder, I was on one of my frequent stays in the hospital. I was 17, so I was in the pediatrics ward. On day two of what ended up being a five day stay, I was approached by a nurse to talk to another patient, a 15 year old girl named Jamie. My first impression of Jamie, once I got past the mass of bandages affixed to her scalp, was that she was the very embodiment of depression. Her face was pulled into an expression of misery I normally associated with Pulitzer Prize-winning pictures of grief-stricken genocide victims. The nurse had told me little of what I was getting into, just that she had gotten out of surgery, was extremely sad, and didn’t have much family support. As I found out, this was an understatement on par with calling Genghis Khan “a little bad tempered.”

I spent nearly six hours with Jamie that day. We didn’t do much talking, but I had my wheelchair pulled up right next to her hospital bed as we watched lousy daytime TV or helped each other take those horrible quizzes you only find in trashy magazines. It wasn’t until the next day that she told me what had happened. Jamie had been over at her friend’s house, doing whatever it is that teenage girls do after school (I assume lots of pillow fights in pajamas?), when Jamie collapsed. Not knowing what else to do, her friend called 911. Jamie was rushed into the ER, where they discovered she had a growth on her brain that had begun to bleed. She required immediate surgery to save her life, and the doctors proceeded despite being unable to get a hold of Jamie’s parents. She was rushed into the OR, the doctors removed the growth, stopped the bleed, and saved her life. Happy ending, right?

Jamie then told me that she had come out of surgery four days before, and had yet to see her parents. I assumed this was because they were out of the country and couldn’t make it back yet or something to that extent. But no, her parents were less than 20 miles away. You see, Jamie’s parents were from a very extreme sect of Christianity known as Christian Scientists, and believed that resorting to “secular medicine” only comes from a lack of faith. If Jamie had prayed harder, gone to church more often, had more faith, she wouldn’t have needed a surgery. By “allowing” herself to use traditional medicine (never mind that she was unconscious when she “gave permission” for this) she had effectively renounced her faith, and her parents felt it was best to remove her from the family. After all, her heresy might spread to her siblings, her parents, her church. Or maybe it was just that her parents were ashamed to show her off to the people around her after this failure of faith.

Now I, personally, can’t understand how a parent could disown their own child for something they cannot help. Hell, I don’t understand how a parent could disown their child, period. These seems to be something that can only be made acceptable when you fall into some sort of mindless dogma, be it Christian Scientists shelling off their child for having her life saved, extremist Muslim parents giving up their daughter for being raped, or Christian fundamentalists kicking their kid out of the house for not fitting their idea of the “right” sexual orientation.

Because of the strict fundamentalist religious dogma that Jamie’s parents held, and thus raised her in, Jamie emerged from the most traumatic experience of her life without any family and with absolutely no idea what her situation meant for her faith. The rigid belief structure her parents had raised her in didn’t allow for any leeway, and was thus easily shattered. She found herself questioning all her beliefs, not just the narrow Christian Science ones, but all her Christian values, and even her humanitarian values. If one of her strictly held beliefs was wrong, couldn’t they all be wrong?

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