Friday, February 29, 2008

Lola and the Robot

For this past Christmas, we bought our son a robot. On Christmas Day, we went to my mom's place and brought the robot with us. For kicks, I had the robot chasing my mom's new dog, a Pomeranian she calls Lola, all around my mom's apartment. I don't think the dog knew what to make of it.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

I Am Legend - Light Up The Darkness

I have been sick with pneumonia lately, so I have been rather lax in my posting. Thanks to the power of daily doses of 750 milligrams of Levaquin, I have been steadily improving and should be able to return to work next Monday.

For this lazy post, we have a clip from I Am Legend, in which Will Smith's Robert Neville tells Anna about the inspiration he gets from the music of Bob Marley. It is part of a segment near the end of the film where Neville at last has a chance to interact with another human being after several years of solitude. It is a brief, idyllic moment before everything comes crashing down.

Chuck Norris Beatdown

Austin Cline critiques a column by Chuck Norris blaming the Illinois school shooting on atheists. In response to that, as well as the rest of the nonsense Chuck has been spouting on behalf of Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, here's a classic martial arts fight scene between the Chuckster and Bruce Lee:

I hope you get a vicarious pleasure from seeing Chuck get his ass whupped by Bruce Lee. Oh, and damn, I didn't realize what a hairy chest Chuck Norris has!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Gays Cause Earthquakes in Israel?

As per the BBC, "Shlomo Benizri, of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish Shas Party... made his comments while addressing a committee of the Israeli parliament, or Knesset, about the country's readiness for earthquakes.

He called on lawmakers to stop "passing legislation on how to encourage homosexual activity in the state of Israel, which anyway brings about earthquakes."

Well, I guess if you had enough rather large and heavy Israeli homosexuals going at it simultaneously, it might result in a few minor tremors.

Hat tip to This Old Brit at Appletree.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Perestroika in Saudi Arabia?

The last thing a Westerner would think to put together is Saudi Arabia and women's rights. Saudi Arabia is known as one of the most repressive states in the world when it come to issues like gender equality.

However, the Kingdom is showing some signs lately of loosening up. In an important development, this article in the UK news site The Telegraph reports that:

"Saudi Arabia is to lift its ban on women drivers in an attempt to stem a rising suffragette-style movement in the deeply conservative state.

Government officials have confirmed the landmark decision and plan to issue a decree by the end of the year.

The move is designed to forestall campaigns for greater freedom by women, which have recently included protesters driving cars through the Islamic state in defiance of a threat of detention and loss of livelihoods."

But there's still more.

"Between an oil refinery and the sea, the monarch is building from scratch a graduate research institution that will have one of the 10 largest endowments in the world, worth more than $10 billion.

Its planners say men and women will study side by side in an enclave walled off from the rest of Saudi society, the country’s notorious religious police will be barred and all religious and ethnic groups will be welcome in a push for academic freedom and international collaboration sure to test the kingdom’s cultural and religious limits.

This undertaking is directly at odds with the kingdom’s religious establishment, which severely limits women’s rights and rejects coeducation and robust liberal inquiry as unthinkable.

For the new institution, the king has cut his own education ministry out the loop, hiring the state-owned oil giant Saudi Aramco to build the campus, create its curriculum and attract foreigners."

While such a facility would be most welcome, I can't help but think what a terrorist magnet the campus would be. I don't doubt that security for people entering and exiting the campus will be very tight. But if they plan on having any chemistry labs in the school, then terrorists who infiltrate the campus as graduate students need not smuggle explosives into the school as they would have the materials they need on site to make their bombs.

It will be interesting to see how it all works out, but the skeptic in me has some serious doubts. Still, I plan to keep an eye on this one.

I've Been Tagged - Book Meme

Gordo at Appletree has tagged me with the Book Meme.

It's pretty simple. Grab the nearest book that is at least 123 pages long, go to page 123, go down to the fifth sentence, and type the following three sentences.

The easiest book for me to reach was The Rough Guide to Taiwan. It just so happens I am contemplating taking a vacation there next year. Here goes:

"Taipei's scorching, humid summers make its shaved ice (tsua bing) stores essential pit stops. Ice Monster at 15 Yongkang Street is a Taipei institution, with massive plates of mango ice, kiwi, strawberry milk and other exotic fruits, topped with delicious homemade ice cream for NT$120-150 (daily 10:30 am-midnight). The Eastern Ice Store (Dong Qu Feng Yuan) at 38, Lane 216, Zhongxiao East Road Section 4 is the best place in East Taipei, with a small seating area and a choice of three toppings for NT$45 (daily 11 am-11 pm), while Yanji Ice at 38-40 Hankou Road Section 2 is a more traditional, no-nonsense shop in Ximending serving ice with delicious, authentic toppings such as thick taro, peanuts and corn: huge bowls cost NT$40-60 (daily noon-10 pm)."

Thursday, February 14, 2008

On Temporary Hiatus

Sorry things have been slow here at Exercise in Futility. I have been sick since last week, thanks to my son passing along to me and his sister something he caught from one of his classmates. I probably will not resume regular posting until at least Sunday.

Best wishes,


Saturday, February 09, 2008

Eff You Mitt Romney!

Via the invaluable Crooks & Liars, here is a link to a clip from Jon Stewart's Daily Show in which Stewart dissects Mitt Romney's speech announcing the end if his presidential candidacy. I didn't realize how bad it was. I do feel a bit of schadenfreude that he blew so much of his personal fortune in his failed campaign.

What's the Matter with Kansas?

I believe the answer might lie in the book of the same title, which I look forward to reading.

The Kansas caucuses were held today and the winner by a resounding margin was Mike Huckabee. Please note though that the AP article linked to above contains a major error, in that it refers to the Iowa Caucuses having been won by John McCain, when in fact it was Huckabee who was the winner in Iowa. Major faux pas there Associated Press!

Several weeks ago, in the wake of his loss in the South Carolina primary, I had pretty much written Huckabee off in this post. In the comments section, I allowed for the possibility that Huckabee might win one or two Bible Belt states, but he has clearly won more than that. That being said, what I meant was that South Carolina was fatal to his campaign in winning the presidential nomination.

I guess I did not realize the extent to which social conservatives vilified John McCain. And with Mitt Romney now out of the race, Huckabee is the only remaining choice for them. But why does Huckabee soldier on when he cannot win the nomination? Does he have something else in mind?

The horrifying though occurred to me the other day in the wake of Super Tuesday. What if Mike Huckabee is running to become John McCain's vice presidential nominee? By sewing up most of the Bible Belt states, Huckabee could be trying to send a message to McCain, "You are going to need to win these states in the general election, and they best way to do that is to have me on your ticket." Given McCain's age and health, it is doubtful that he will serve more than one term if he should win, and his vice president would likely become the presumptive heir.

Pam Spaulding has a post up at Pandagon about this frightening prospect. Whatever his flaws, McCain has shown a willingness to buck his own party on some hot button issues, and if it were a choice between him and Hillary Clinton, I might have considered pulling the lever for him. However, should McCain pick Huckabee to be his vice-presidential candidate, not only will I vote for the Democratic candidate, but I will also actively campaign on behalf of either Clinton or Obama.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Friday Funnies Twofer - Little Shop of Horrors

Here are two great scenes from the movie featuring Steve Martin as "the dentist".

To Atheist Parents - What Do You Tell Your Children About Religion?

As regular readers of my blog know, I have two children, a son who is six and a half and a daughter who will turn 5 next week.

Thus far, the topic of religion has not come up much between us. The biggest thing I have done is tell them that when they say the Pledge of Allegiance, that they can skip the "under God" part. Whether or not they actually do in school I don't know, nor do I quiz them about it.

Both of my children know what a church is, having attended and/or participated in several weddings in Catholic churches. Not far from where we live there is a big Korean church and a couple of Hebrew schools (Plainview has a large Jewish population), all of which have childrens playgrounds in them. Whenever I would drive past them with my kids in the car, they would call out "Daddy, I want to play in that playground." I would reply to them that they can't, because they are not Korean kids or Jewish kids. A couple of times, my son would say "I want to be a Jewish kid." I got a good laugh out of that.

The most I discussed with them about the idea of god is that I told them that some people believe there is someone up in the sky called God, but that daddy does not believe that such a being exists. Apart from that though, I really have not made any effort to put an atheist stamp on them. I want to wait until they are older to be able to understand the matter better, and I want them to make their own choices.

I would be interested though how any other parents here in the atheist blogosphere handled the subject of religion with their children, and at what age did they discuss it with them.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

How Come My House Hasn't Been Destroyed By A Tornado?

I was very saddened to read about the death and destruction that was visited upon our Southern states yesterday. The short story is:

"The victims included 24 people in Tennessee, 13 in Arkansas, and seven in Kentucky, emergency officials said. Among those killed were Arkansas parents who died with their 11-year-old in Atkins, about 60 miles northwest of Little Rock. Hundreds more were injured."

I can't help but think though, are we going to hear the inevitable proclamations by the likes of Pat Robertson and others of his ilk that this was all due to God expressing his anger at America? If so, why would these tornadoes cut through the Bible Belt states, where all of the supposedly gawd-fearin' people live? I'm an avowed atheist. Where is the tornado to destroy my house? After all, if God is supposed to be all powerful, then you would think that this allegedly divine being would be able to target its displays of anger with the precision of a skilled surgeon. Instead, the supposed wrath of God is more like a bull in a china shop.

And, given the amount of damage caused by the tornadoes, couldn't this guy have found a better use for the generous sum of money he donated?

Saturday, February 02, 2008

My E-Mail to the Afghan Embassy Regarding Pervez Kambakhsh

Below is the text of my letter to the Ambassador of Afghanistan to the United States, Said T. Jawad. I also intend to send the letter via snail mail to the Embassy, which is located at:

Embassy of Afghanistan
2341 Wyoming Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20008

The website for the embassy is

Dear Ambassador Jawad,

I am writing to you to express my anger and dismay at your nation's Senate issuing its support for the death sentence for Mr. Pervez Kambaksh for the supposed crime of blasphemy.

Permit me to cut right to the heart of the matter by stating very plainly that no person on the face of this Earth deserves to die for expressing an opinion that is critical of the religious beliefs of others. No one questions the right of an individual to be deeply committed to his or her religious faith, and the free exercise of one's religious faith or to not believe in any religion at all, is one of the most cherished liberties here in the United States. In fact, there is considerable evidence to support the conclusion that the separation of church and state in the United States is the reason why religious participation here is greater than in countries that have established churches.

But, and this is equally important, no one has the right not to be offended by the propagation of opinions that run counter to one's religious faith. When religious zealots try to suppress speech that is critical of or contrary to established religious dogma, then such a society impoverishes itself. No society can hope to improve the material welfare of its people when legitimate fields of inquiry are declared to be off limits to discussion. Put it this way, imagine a society where many people suffered from the ravages of polio, but the idea of administering vaccines was considered an abomination in the eyes of God. Would such a society have any hope of eliminating the scourge of polio? How then can one hope to address the problems that result from the enforced inequality of the sexes and the codification of an inferior status for women if criticizing the religious justification for such misogynist attitudes is itself deemed a crime worthy of the death penalty?

If there in fact is a God that created our universe and watches over us in judgment of our deeds, then the very idea of blasphemy laws should be an insult to such a God. Consider the vastness of space and the countless galaxies, stars and planets that reside within it. Does such a being need mere mortal men to kill on its behalf a man who expresses opinions that might run counter to the laws of this God when God itself presumably has the power to judge and sentence such a man? Does a lion need mice to kill on its behalf, or does the lion itself kill what it chooses to kill?

I call on the courts and elected government of the people of Afghanistan to abolish the death penalty for blasphemy and free Pervez Kambaksh.

Respectfully yours

Friday, February 01, 2008

E-Waste Disposal in the Town of Oyster Bay

Several weeks ago I did a post about the problems associated with the improper disposal of e-waste, such as computer parts and other electronics items.

I did some checking and am glad to see that the Town of Oyster Bay, in which I live, has an e-waste disposal program.

The first date in 2008 scheduled by the town for collecting e-waste items such as computer monitors and hard drives, keyboards, cables, mice, pagers, copiers, fax machines, and printers is Saturday, April 12 at John J. Burns Park in Massapequa. Additional information from the Town of Oyster Bay's Department of Environmental Waste can be found here.