Author Archive: Tony Coyle

I'm a technophile with an enduring interest in almost anything real or imagined. I suffer fools badly, and love trashy science fiction, plot-free action movies, playing guitar, and baking (especially scones. You haven't lived 'til you've eaten my scones. I've recently undertaken bread, and am now in danger of gaining in a matter of weeks the 60 pounds I've lost in the past 2 years). My wife & I are Scottish, living north of Atlanta, GA, with two children, one dog, and a growing collection of gadgets. I work for a living.

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Things I don’t have to think about…

| October 18, 2010 | 1 Reply
Things I don’t have to think about…

From Whatever.

“Today I don’t have to think about those who hear “terrorist” when I speak my faith.
Today I don’t have to think about men who don’t believe no means no.
Today I don’t have to think about how the world is made for people who move differently than I do.
Today I don’t have to think about whether I’m married, depending on what state I’m in.
Today I don’t have to think about how I’m going to hail a cab past midnight.”

“Today I don’t have to think about whether store security is tailing me.
Today I don’t have to think about the look on the face of the person about to sit next to me on a plane.
Today I don’t have to think about eyes going to my chest first.
Today I don’t have to think about what people might think if they knew the medicines I took.
Today I don’t have to think about getting kicked out of a mall when I kiss my beloved hello.”

“Today I don’t have to think about if it’s safe to hold my beloved’s hand.
Today I don’t have to think about whether I’m being pulled over for anything other than speeding.
Today I don’t have to think about being classified as one of “those people.”
Today I don’t have to think about making less than someone else for the same job at the same place.
Today I don’t have to think about the people who stare, or the people who pretend I don’t exist.”

[More . . . ]

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Pressure, Temperature, Volume!

| October 14, 2010 | 6 Replies
Pressure, Temperature, Volume!

Warning – Science Geekery ahead!

Am I the only person in the world who gets that we can control for Boyle’s Law?

While reading a (Science Fiction) book, by a very respected author*, I encountered a scene where a character brews some coffee. Yum! I love coffee! But my delightful anticipation was immediately spoiled by the character’s complaints about how the low ambient pressure makes for lukewarm coffee!

Seriously?

Have people never heard of these amazing newfangled devices called pressure cookers? Heck, Europeans have had little stovetop espresso makers for many many years, that are essentially little one-shot pressure cookers! With the correct setup such equipment can produce strong, hot coffee regardless of the ambient pressure!

Whenever I come across such obvious stupidity it kills the story for me.

Get the little details right, people! Let me enjoy my stories and enjoy my coffee (regardless of ambient)!

* in defense of the Author, he is an older American, so can be excused for not really understanding the difference between coffee and the pale brown caffeinated beverage that shares that name in the States.

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Dialog with a Republican.

| October 11, 2010 | 16 Replies
Dialog with a Republican.

My neighbor, B, is a progressive republican and a tax partner in a large CPA firm. We had a conversation…

“Obama needs to go”, said B.

Why? He’s doing pretty well considering the mess he inherited!

“Because all he wants to do is raise taxes! If we don’t get control [of congress and senate] my taxes will go up by almost 20%. I already pay almost half my income in taxes: income, property, FICA and the rest”

What? How do you get a 20% increase?

“FICA – is capped at about 100k. As a partner, I pay FICA at 15%. Lose that cap and my taxes go up immediately by 15%. The top rate of income tax is set to climb to 39%, which is an extra 3%. And there are a bunch of others, too”

No — that’s just wrong. Even assuming that happens… an example, if you earned $200k your effective FICA rate would be 7.5% on that $200k, right? So even without a cap, your effective FICA rate will never be greater than 15%. If you earn $200k, that means an increase of 7.5%, not 15%!

“OK! But that wouldn’t be a 7.5% increase if I earned 300k or 400k or 500k. It would be much greater than 7.5%”

B, Sure it would, but if you earn $500k and can’t absorb that kind of increase I’d advise you to start looking for a new tax accountant! LOL

“Well ok! But do you think it’s fair that 60% of the people in this country don’t pay any taxes?”

Where did you get that number? Do you think it’s right that the US has such a large population of poor people they fall under the threshold for federal taxes?

“Most of those people aren’t poor!”

But all of them pay taxes. You included property taxes in your 50%. I assume you included sales taxes, 7% for most everything here in GA? Then those people who pay nothing are paying way more in effective taxes than you – for food and energy and shelter

[More . . . ]

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Separation of Church and State?

| October 1, 2010 | 23 Replies
Separation of Church and State?

I was on my way to lunch today, when I saw an ad on a local ‘mega-church’ billboard. It was promoting a “Restoring America Conference”.

This is a church. It pays no taxes. It should have no say, as an entity, in our political process.

Based on the speakers, this will not be about Restoring America in any social sense – something that a church should indeed participate and lead. This ‘conference’ will undoubtedly be a rabidly right-wing diatribe from start to finish.

I have absolutely no problem with free speech, not do I have a problem with Partisan speech. I do have a problem when political speech is not only associated with religion, but sponsored and promoted by a religious organization.

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Is religion honest?

| September 17, 2010 | 37 Replies
Is religion honest?

Most religious adherents would be aghast if one suggested that they, or their religion, were fundamentally and consistently dishonest. However I believe that is indeed the case.

I read a comment on a recent blog post by Ed Brayton (honesty vs intellectually honest).

Ed’s post argued about the distinction between honesty and intellectual honesty, and noted that intellectual honesty must recognize not only the arguments in support of a position, but also any evidence or arguments against that position.

One of the commenters (Sastra) then made the following case that faith was fundamentally intellectually dishonest:

[...] An intellectually dishonest person blurs the distinction [between being intellectually honest, and being emotionally honest], and seems to confuse fact claims with meaning or value claims. To a person who places emphasis on emotional honesty, strength of conviction is evidence. An attack on an idea, then, is an attack on the person who holds it. The idea is true because it’s emotionally fulfilling: intentions and sincerity matter the most. Therefore, you don’t question, search, or respect dissent. A person who is trying to change your mind, is trying to change you.

For example, I consider religious faith [...] to be intellectually dishonest. It is, however, sincerely emotionally honest.

[...] “Faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of what is not seen.” There’s a huge emotional component to it, so that one chooses to keep faith in X, the way one might remain loyal to a friend. You defend him with ingenuity and love, finding reasons to explain or excuse evidence against him. He cannot fail: you, however, can fail him, by allowing yourself to be lead into doubt.

Being able to spin any result into support then is a sign of good will, loyalty, reliability, and the ability to stand fast. The focus isn’t on establishing what’s true, but on establishing that you can be “true.” This emotional honesty may or may not be rewarded: the real point, I think, is to value it for its own sake, as a fulfillment of a perceived duty.

This is exactly the case with religion, and religious adherents.

Their faith in their god is entirely emotional, and no amount of material evidence will alter their belief.

They may be entirely honest in their belief, and may be entirely honest in their objection to evidence (cf Karl, Rabel, Walter, et al) but in doing so are being intellectually dishonest, because they refuse to recognize valid and entirely relevant evidence – they conflate with great consistency and verve fact claims with value claims, and deny any difference between them stating it’s all ‘interpretation’.

No, it isn’t all interpretation.

It’s dishonesty.

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Is USDA Organic Certifiably Insane?

| September 2, 2010 | Reply
Is USDA Organic Certifiably Insane?

I saw a very brief and hurried post from ERV on ScienceBlogs. In it, she noted that organic farmers let their animals die from treatable diseases, because to do otherwise would deny them the valuable ‘organic’ label.

WTF?

In Europe, organic livestock MUST be treated humanely, and may receive therapeutic medication (including antibiotics) – to do otherwise is a complete denial of everything science and medicine has learned in the past three hundred years.

But, apparently, that’s what Organic means in the US!

As ERV says

‘Organic’ farmers? All concerned about their free-range, cage-free, at harmony with the Mother Goddess animals? They let their fucking animals die from treatable diseases, because if they treat them with even one dose of antibiotics, the animals are no longer ‘organic’.

She quotes Ronnie Cummins, National Director of the Organic Consumers Association

Allowing one-time therapeutic antibiotics is “a slippery slope”, and would “undermine consumer confidence in organics. It’s the same position [I have] as on human vaccines. They are dangerous, and that’s why I didn’t vaccinate my kid.”

Never mind the epic FAIL in Ronnie Cummin’s statement about the dangers of vaccines – that woo is worthy of a post all by itself! The issue is that animals are allowed to die, often painfully, from completely preventable and treatable diseases.

Why is this so?

ERV linked to her source (this article at the blog “In These Times”). According to that article,

Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations defining organic standards mandate that if [a] calf had gotten one dose of antibiotics, even to save her life, she could never give organic milk—even after the two years it takes for her to become a milker, and even though neither she nor her milk would retain any trace of antibiotics.

So why would the USDA have such nonsensical standards for ‘organic’?

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CEOs Earn More When They Fire People

| September 1, 2010 | 1 Reply
CEOs Earn More When They Fire People

John D Rockefeller - Puck Magazine 1901

The Institute for Policy Studies has just released their 17th annual review of CEO salary. It makes for scary reading.

While the rest of us suffer through the double-dip-recession-that-never-actually-lifted-off-the-bottom, CEOs, who are not only some of the wealthiest people in the country but are also the most handsomely paid to boot, have seen their income rise in real terms, while their employees have seen a reduction in real income and a significant contraction of job opportunities.

According to the Institute

Corporate executives, in reality, are not suffering at all. Their pay, to be sure, dipped on average in 2009 from 2008 levels, just as their pay in 2008, the first Great Recession year, dipped somewhat from 2007. But executive pay overall remains far above inflationadjusted levels of years past. In fact, after adjusting for inflation, CEO pay in 2009 more than doubled the CEO pay average for the decade of the 1990s, more than quadrupled the CEO pay average for the 1980s, and ran approximately eight times the CEO average for all the decades of the mid-20th century.

Their employees, meanwhile

are taking home less in real weekly wages than they took home in the 1970s. Back in those years, precious few top executives made over 30 times what their workers made. In 2009, we calculate in the 17th annual Executive Excess, CEOs of major U.S. corporations averaged 263 times the average compensation of American workers. CEOs are clearly not hurting.

But reality is even worse:

In 2009, the CEOs who slashed their payrolls the deepest took home 42 percent more compensation than the year’s chief executive pay average for S&P 500 companies

The market, and the embedded compensation committees, are rewarding CEOs for destroying livliehoods, for shipping jobs overseas, and for eviscerating the american workplace.

These are the same people who lobby our politicians to create business friendly legislation (aka legislation that will protect their bonuses and options) and to fight against social programs (that would level the playing field a little)

What was so wrong with the vibrant, growing, energetic America of the 70s and 80s? Why do CEOs hate America, so?

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A new site for Biblical scholarship?

| August 30, 2010 | Reply
A new site for Biblical scholarship?

I have to admit, I enjoy reading about the gaming scene (I live my geek vicariously).

I was therefore delighted/amazed/surprised/dumbfounded to read about a new MMO game called The Bible Online
warning – extremely slow server
The site describes the game as follows

<The Bible Online: Ch1. The Heroes> is based on the first book of the Bible, Genesis. Players can meet and play the real heroes of Genesis, Abraham and his descendants. The game is designed for users to actually experience the Book of Genesis by fulfilling quests of Abraham, which is based on the true stories of the Genesis.
As a MMORTS, players are to lead their tribe, build buildings, maintain resources and engage in warfare with other tribes. However, players do not stay in one place, but will go on a quest to go to the Promised Land. Players will lead Abraham’s tribe from Ur to Haran and finally to Canaan.

Most game sites are very excited, but confidently expect the game to be ‘adult only’ due to the graphic nature of the sex, violence, and general debauchery inherent in the source material.

[H/T - Destructoid and Penny Arcade]

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People really do play by the rules!

| August 30, 2010 | Reply
People really do play by the rules!

Studies recently completed at Washington State University suggest that we really, really don’t like non-conformists, people who don’t play by the rules, regardless of whether the outcome is positive or negative.

The studies gave participants—introductory psychology students—pools of points that they could keep or give up for an immediate reward of meal service vouchers. Participants were also told that giving up points would improve the group’s chance of receiving a monetary reward.

In reality, the participants were playing in fake groups of five. Most of the fictitious four would make seemingly fair swaps of one point for each voucher, but one of the four would often make lopsided exchanges—greedily giving up no points and taking a lot of vouchers, or unselfishly giving up a lot of points and taking few vouchers.

As expected, participants didn’t want to work with the greedy players who took more than they shared. Unexpectedly, they were also eager to get rid of the unselfish players – who consistently gave more than they received.

The researchers found that

unselfish colleagues come to be resented because they “raise the bar” for what is expected of everyone. As a result, workers feel the new standard will make everyone else look bad.

They frequently said, “the person is making me look bad” or is breaking the rules. Occasionally, they would suspect the person had ulterior motives.

It didn’t seem to matter that the overall welfare of the group or the task at hand is better served by someone’s unselfish behavior.

The do-gooders are seen as deviant rule breakers. It’s as if they’re giving away Monopoly money so someone can stay in the game, irking other players to no end.

I think that this merely demonstrates that the majority of people are generally (small c) conservative, and want to stay within well defined boundaries.

In my opinion, this respect for the rules is one of the major foundations upon which religion builds, and which is (also) appropriated by authoritarians for their personal gain. Hooking into our sense of fair-play and our inherent tribalism seems to be a winning strategy for those who would define the rules for their personal gain.

Define the rules, and the people will enforce them for you. No secret police needed!

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