Monday, March 23, 2009

The Catholic Church gets it wrong Again

"In his first public comments on condom use, the pontiff told reporters
en route to Cameroon that Aids "is a tragedy that cannot be overcome by
money alone, and that cannot be overcome through the distribution of
condoms, which even aggravates the problems"

Joe also blogged about this bullshit here and here.

Who is going to hold 'His holiness' morally accountable to the death that he is directly contributing to with his failed ideology? Unlike Joe, I do not believe the Pope is guilty of any criminal act by saying that the use of Condoms is wrong, but he is and ought to be held criminally responsible for the blatant falsehoods that he is spreading when he claims that condoms actually contribute to the AIDS epidemic. This is both morally corrupt and outright criminal.

Thankfully, this has backfired on him, and many have left the Catholic church because of this. Apparently "Roman Catholic canon law allows a process known as a “formal act of
defection” from the faith. This means that a note will be made on a
person’s baptismal record stating that they have left the church

Here's just one letter by someone who considered this to be the final nail in the coffin:

"Firstly, I can no longer quiet my moral objections to certain
Vatican policies. This extends from matters raised in the investigative
works of David Yallop, in his books ‘In God’s Name’ and ‘The Power and
the Glory’ up to recent statements which have been made by Pope
Benedict XVI, such as his holiness’s refusal to acknowledge matters of
basic scientific fact concerning the preventative spread of HIV AIDS,
through condom use. The Catholic church is in a unique position to
educate and prevent the spread of this disease, but instead chooses to
make it 10 times worse on the fundamentally flawed assumption that
without the temptation of protected sex, the destitute underclass will
opt for bronze-age fallacies and chastity. This is something which I
find morally repugnant, that in any other reality would see those
responsible for this policy permanently removed from office—if not
exposed to criminal proceedings. That we are instructed instead to view
these comments with reverence, simply because of who uttered them, is
perhaps the single best explanation of why church attendance figures
are in decline one could wish to find.
The Pope has also made illogical pronouncements on greed and
corruption, whilst sitting atop a throne made of gold and precious
stones. He has called the unearthing of a secret Vatican policy of over
40 years standing, which was designed to protect pedophiles in the
priesthood while silencing their victims, “a media exaggeration”. He
has failed to punish Holocaust deniers in the Bishopric while
excommunicating the mother of a nine year old rape victim who became
pregnant by her own step father, who himself remained free to attend
mass. He has an attitude from the dark ages towards people who are
genetically predetermined to be attracted to members of their own sex.
He has turned a blind eye to Knights of Columbus donations to political
campaigns in the hundreds of millions of dollars while in the poorest
countries of the world denouncing liberation theology, welcoming money
lenders back into the temple to literally pontificate on the very
opposite of humility and sacrifice contained in the teachings of Christ.
But more than all of this, Father Stott, I tend to agree with
Agnesë Mother Teresa Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, when she said, “I no longer feel
God’s presence, even in the Eucharist”, because to my mind, it is a
simple matter of deductive logic that there is no such omnipotent being
as God, least of all the petulant sadist worshipped by those of my
former faith from which I now seek final and public excommunication.
If, anywhere in the ever expanding universe, there were such a
being as that which you describe in Yahweh, I find it unlikely that He
would allow the things which take place in His name to continue, were
he capable of intervening to prevent them. Since, for the last 13.7
billion years, God has failed to do this, one can only conclude that He
is incapable of such an act, in which case He is not the benevolent God
of the good book we are dogmatically told by those in your profession
He is, while failing to present the slightest shred of evidence to
back-up one deluded axiom after another, spanning centuries of war,
hate, oppression and greed in defence of this intolerant and
shrivelling credo.

For these reasons and myriad others, which I am almost certain you
are equally uninterested in hearing about as you are those above, I
hereby formally request that I am no longer, as a matter of public
record, to be considered a Catholic. I would be grateful for written
confirmation of this request as and when you are able to provide it.
Look on the bright side, father. You lose me, you gain Tony Blair."

Why does it always seem to me like defectors from the faith tend to be the most Christ like?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Skepticism and Economics

I'm studying economics, and despite the fact that I will be specializing in microeconomics as I finish my PhD - I know a fair amount about the macroeconomics of the recent crisis. I also know a fair amount about the stock market, finance, mortgages, and securities ... etc...

The other day Jon Stewart had Jim Cramer of mad money on his show (watch it here, its chilling)*** and called him out on some shady hedge fund stuff that he used to do. He also called him out on his shruggist attitude and sensationalist approach on his TV show where he knows his advice is often on the 'pretend market' (which is explained perfectly by Jon on the show).

I hope that mixing economics and skepticism will catch on soon - it is uncharted territory in the skeptical community. Skeptics on the whole know a fair amount about religion, natural science, psychology, medicine, literature, and philosophy. However, I think that skeptics have yet to truly add business and economics to their repertoire. I certainly do not blame skeptics for this, if anything economics is an extremely convoluted and often esoteric field.

The recent events that lead to the crash is such a great example of why this is the case (that is, why skepticism ought to begin lending their critical thinking to these areas). Not to mention the Bernie Madoff tens of billions of dollars ponzi scheme that was just revealed. Anyway, there are so many intricacies that make up the 'markets' and thus many places for experts to take advantage. Also, when it comes to big investments that make your life better off - such as buying a home - many people are nearly clueless as to what is going on (its not every day you buy a house, unless of course you're a lender or an agent). Unethical people use this asymmetry of information to their advantage every day - one example of this was the predatory lending and ridiculous leveraging going on in the sub prime markets that contributed to the crisis.

I hope to make more posts that directly link economics to skepticism and business to skepticism as well as include this in the podcosts. Like I said before, skeptics usually know a lot about science and so on - and to continue fleshing out a well rounded base of knowledge and understanding is essential to inquiry and critical thinking.

***As a side note, the 35:1 leveraging mentioned in the video above is the ratio of debt to equity in an investment. For example, someone wants to buy a home for $360,000, and they only have $10,000 to pay as a down payment - if the bank approves this, then the debt:equity is $350,000:$10,000, which simplified is 35:1. This higher this ratio, the riskier the investment. The rule of thumb (without considering income for now) is to have a 10% down payment. So to use the example again, the down payment recommended is $36,000. Thus, the debt:equity would be $324,000:$36,000, which simplified is 9:1 (MUCH better).

If you have any questions about this economic or financial stuff, just write them below and I'll field them as they come. Other than that, I'd also like to know what you think about extending skepticism to the areas it usually does not touch - such as economics.



Sunday, March 15, 2009

Going green only a fad?

Only 41% of Americans say protecting the environment is a top priority for the new year, a 15-point decline from the previous January when 56% called it a top priority.

I've been wondering whether or not the green movement would eventually fizzle out and become known as a fad. However, it is important to remember that other issues such as an economic crisis could be responsible for the shift of opinion.

So, is it just a fad?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Designer Babies

"In response to feedback received related to our plans to introduce preimplantation genetic prediction of eye pigmentation, an internal, self regulatory decision has been made to proceed no further with this project. Though well intended, we remain sensitive to public perception and feel that any benefit the diagnostic studies may offer are far outweighed by the apparent negative societal impacts involved. For those patients with albinism or other ocular pigmentation disorders, we continue to offer preimplantation genetic diagnosis in general but will not be investigating the genetics of pigmentation of any body structures."

-March 2nd, 2009 - from The Fertility Institutes

The Fertility Institutes are a collection of fertility clinics that have the technology to scan to the genetic composition of an embryo for diseases before implantation. They create the embryos, then after a few days when they are about 6-8 cells big they can extract a piece from it for testing. However, recently they've been telling the public that they will soon offer more than this - not only can you screen for disease but for eye color, hair color, skin color, and basic aesthetic characteristics.

This is known as
preimplantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD.

According this article,

"PGD is used for medical purposes to avert life-threatening diseases in children, but the science behind it has matured so that it could potentially create a designer baby.

In a recent United States survey of 999 people who sought genetic counseling, about 10 percent of respondents said they would want genetic testing for athletic ability, while another 10 percent voted for improved height."

Needless to say, this made people a bit skirmish, hence the above statement responding via suspension of the program.

Although we talked about this a bit at our meeting the other night, I was wondering what specific problems and/or benefits are there to this technology? Is scientific progress crossing ethical borders where it ought not?

Friday, March 6, 2009

Shermer Vs. Hovind

Funny seeing someone who we ate dinner with one week and someone who we named turd sandwich the next.