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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Retroactive Soapbox Entry- E-mails and Misinformation, Part II

Note: This is a post of an essay that first appeared on my website March 10th, 2004. The original essay can be found here. This is part of an ongoing effort to put all of my soapbox entries onto this blog, to give a space for user feedback. A "new" retroactive post will be made every Monday.

10 March 2004

A month and a half ago, I wrote an essay about why it's important to be careful what you forward in e-mail, particularly not to send on hoaxes and myths because of the harm that they can cause. One of my coworkers has forwarded me a few e-mails that I've sent back corrections on. I just sent one back this past week, and apparently they were tired of me correcting them- it pissed them off pretty good. So, I verbally apologized (sincerely), and then sent the e-mail below explaining my actions. I think it does a pretty good job of explaining my opinions, giving a few more examples than my last Soapbox entry.

I'm sorry that I upset you- I didn't mean to. And I'm not singling you out in correcting e-mails. I do it all the time with Irma [my fiancée] or anyone else that forwards me anything, so much so that I've gotten Irma to start checking out e-mails on her own, and she'll reply to her friends to correct them if they send her something false.

And I don't correct people just for the sake of correcting them. There are so many hoaxes and myths that get passed around over e-mail, and no matter how inocuous they seem, or how good the intentions are of the people sending them, many still have the possibility of doing more harm than good. I'll give you a few examples to let you know what I'm talking about.

Irma sent me an e-mail about how you're supposed to start coughing if you think you're having a heart attack, something about compressing your chest cavity enough to still circulate a little bit of blood ( As it turns out, unless you're an expert or extemely lucky, in some cases, that's the worst thing you can do. It could turn a minor heart attack into a fatal one.

There's another e-mail going around about criminals masquerading as police officers ( That's true, but the e-mail's advice is to dial #77 while you're on the highway if you're suspicious of a police officer behind you. Unfortunately, not all states have #77. So if you're driving cross country in an area you're not familiar with, and you dial #77 because that's what you're used to or because that's what you remember from the e-mail, you may not got any help. The best advice, which wasn't in the e-mail, is to dial 911, and you'll definitely get the help you need. In fact, there are quite a few e-mails that I consider similar to this. While the story may be true, they don't necessarily give the best advice, or they narrow your focus to a certain situation, keeping you from thinking in general terms.

Jay [my boss] sent me an e-mail that suggested that you put "" as the lead name in your e-mail address book. It's supposed to give you a warning if your computer gets infected by a virus, by causing you to get a reply that you tried to mail something to that address ( Unfortunately, viruses are more sophisticated than that, and this really does nothing to protect you. Worse, it gives people a sense of security when there is none, making them more prone to getting their computer infected by a virus. A similar e-mail which gave people instructions to protect their computer from viruses was actually instructing them to delete an important file from their computer (

There's an e-mail going around telling you not to use your cell phone at the gas station ( Basically, it says that something about your cell phone could cause the gas vapor to ignite. It's not true. But, a few months ago when we were in Olney, a guy flying his plane was leaking fuel out of his wing tanks. He was distracted by this e-mail which he had received earlier, and made sure to get his cell phone out and shut it off, but he forgot to put his landing gear down. Luckily, Stan [another coworker] saw him coming in with the gear up, so he got Bob Stark (operator of the FBO) to get on the radio and let him know, avoiding a disaster. Would he have put the gear down if he hadn't have been trying to get his cell phone out? Who knows, but I think it was definitely a distraction that he didn't need at the time.

And those are just a few of the e-mails with advice. There are hundreds more, plus all of the other e-mail myths that just plain spread false information (like the one about Tommy Hilfiger supposedly being a racist- At the best, these just keep people ignorant of the truth. At the worst, they can damage reputations, spread hatred, or make people do something that they shouldn't have.

So it's not that I correct your e-mails because I'm trying to be a smart ass, or because I'm out to get you. I'm genuinely trying to help keep hoaxes and myths from being perpetuated. I never forward something on to people unless I check it, first. I usually use, but there are a few other sites out there that are just as good. And until I've checked an e-mail, I just assume it to be false, because 95% of them are. It's good to be skeptical when it comes to e-mail.

So, once again I'm sorry for upsetting you. But hopefully you can see why I do what I do with e-mails.

I really was sincere in my apology. I was not attempting to piss that person off. I was just trying to stop the spread of a myth.

To quote a line from Spider-Man, "With great power comes great responsibility." It was a bit melodramatic in the movie (I never read the comics), but the meaning was there. Ability and responsibility go hand in hand. Information is very powerful, and e-mail has enabled everyday people to contact a much larger audience than they ever could before. When you forward on e-mails that you receive, you take responsibility for the information in that e-mail. So you better make sure that it's good information. Aside from being irresponsible, forwarding on information without checking its validity is akin to electronic gossip. You hear a story, think it sounds good, and send it off to all of your friends, just the same way as gossipers do by word of mouth.

But then, what is the best way to forward on an e-mail. In my last Soapbox entry, I suggested going to Snopes or some similar site to validate the story. That's still a good idea. But if you just forward on the original e-mail, the recipients don't know its validity (except by your reputation), so they'll have to go and look it up for themselves. So it's probably a good idea to include a link to the validation in your forward.

Better yet, those sites usually include links to the original source. If you can get a link to the original source, that'd be even better. In fact, me and my friends hardly ever send entire stories over e-mail. We usually just send links, with maybe about a paragraph intro about what the link is to. And that's what I think is the best thing to do. You're now citing a reputable source, and directing people to that source. No more monkeying around with e-mail messages that can be changed by any Joe Schmoe with an internet connection. Just be sure that your source is reputable. All those people that start the e-mail hoaxes and myths have websites, too.

And one more note on the harm of forwards in general, though it's a pretty small one. They use up bandwidth. It's almost like a worm. They just keep spreading from inbox to inbox. Only instead of infecting the computer, they infect the user. If people only sent out the true stories that they received, just think of how many less e-mails a day would be in your inbox.

So, while I'm sorry for upsetting my coworker, if I receive another false e-mail, I'll send another correction. Hoaxes and myths don't do anybody any good. It's everybody's responsibility to be careful what they send. So if someone is irresponsible and sends me a hoax or a myth, I will let them know what they did.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Merry Christmas

I thought about saying "Happy Holidays," just to tick off those people that get so worked up over it (like at my wife's work, one guy caught a bunch of flak from his coworkers for having Christmas cards that said "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas," even though the cards had a Bible verse on them), but it's the last work day before Christmas, and I didn't feel like being cantankerous. If you don't celebrate Christmas, well than enjoy whatever holiday it is that you celebrate around this time, and if you don't celebrate anything, then just enjoy yourself.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Problems With Day-Age Interpretation of Genesis

The other day, I did something that maybe I shouldn't have. I struck up a conversation with a couple co-workers about Intelligent Design. We kept it friendly enough. They already know my religious/scientific opinions, and I already knew theirs, so there weren't any heated arguments. I was just interested to see how fundamentalists felt about Intelligent Design, and about the judge's decision in the Kitzmiller vs. Dover Board of Education case.

Here's why I was curious to their opinion. It seems to me that if you're going to reject evolution on religious (Christian) grounds, it's because you believe in basically a literal interpretation of the Bible. i.e. that the creation story in Genesis is accurate. If you don't believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible (i.e. you believe in a figurative, allegorical, historical or some other interpretation), then there shouldn't be any religious reason to reject evolution. So I wondered, if you hold to a literal interpretation of the Bible, what would be your take on Intelligent Design? A lot of the ID proponents claim that ID is really science, and that they're just trying to point out evidence of an intelligent designer. They stress that they're not trying to support the Bible. Further, some of the evidence that they use goes against a strictly literal interpretation of Genesis, such as using the Cambrian "Explosion" of 500 million years ago. Really, it makes me wonder why ID is so popular. It's bad science, as evidenced by its overwhelming rejection by the scientific community (not just lack of acceptance, which would characterize most new theories, but actual rejection), and, from a fundamentalist viewpoint, it's bad religion, because it's counter to a 6 day creation.

So, when I brought it up to those co-workers that ID goes against a literal interpretation of Genesis because it allows for the Earth being billions of years old, they got kind of wishy washy on the age of the Earth. Their reply was something to the effect of, "A day in the life of God is like a thousand years to man," so how can we be sure how long the days in Genesis actually were. My first thought was, wow, so the Bible's only literal when it's convenient; otherwise, it's open to interpretation. But then I decided to look into it a little further. Maybe there was something to their line of argument. After a little research, I found people who said that in the original Hebrew, the word used for "day" in Genesis could be translated as either day or age, and that maybe age was the word that should be used there. This, or the day to a thousand years argument my coworkers used, actually turn out to be pretty popular arguments. So, I went back and took another look at Genesis, and, well, these day-age interpretations just don't make any more sense.

More below the fold.

Just for reference, here's a link to the first book of Genesis on If you don't like the New International Version, you can find another version on their site.

So on the first day, God creates a light, which he calls day, and a dark, which he calls night. I really have no idea what the Bible's referring to, here, since it's not day and night in the conventional sense. The light of day is the sunlight that shines onto the side of the Earth that happens to be facing the sun at that particular time, and the darkness of night occurs on the side of the Earth that's in the shadow. Since Genesis doesn't say the sun is created until the fourth day, I don't know what this day and night refer to. But let's move on.

On the second day, God creates the sky "to separate water from water." Once again, I'm confused. What waters does the sky separate? At this point, Genesis seems to indicate that the Eart is coverred by one vast ocean, so that's one body of water. But what other water is this being separated from? Is there some vast body of water floating around in space somewhere? Maybe it's referring to clouds. I don't know, so I'll move on to the next day.

Finally, on the third day, Genesis starts talking about things that I can understand. First God creates the continents, or at least "land." Now that there's land to work with, he creates seed bearing plants and fruit bearing trees. There's no explicit mention of any other types of plants anywhere else in Genesis, so I think it would be safe to assume that this third day of creation accounts for all of the plants. Remember, the sun still won't be created until the fourth day, so there's still no sunlight for these plants to use for photosynthesis. And there's no mention yet of any animals being created, including insects, so there's no way for flowering plants to reproduce through insect pollination, or for certain other plants to reproduce which require that their seeds pass through the digestive system of an animal, first.

On the fourth day, God finally creates the sun, the moon, and the stars, so now the plants can survive, and the Earth can have a proper day and night.

On the fifth day, God created all of the birds, and all of the creatures of the sea. Now, there's finally some type of animal to distribute seeds. If flying insects are counted as birds, there are finally bees and other insects to pollinate flowers.

On the sixth day, God created all of the "livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals." Also on the sixth day, God created people.

So, if you try to interpret Genesis as the days being ages of indeterminate time, you're still left with problems. If plants were created in the third age, and the sun in the fourth age, unless the ages were extremely short, the creating must have taken place right at the end of the third, and right at the beginning of the fourth ages, or else the plants would all die. Which I suppose is possible, but there's still a big problem of many of the plants not being able to reproduce which are dependent on animals for pollination, germination, or seed dispersal. This would seem to indicate that the fourth age, you know, the one where 99.99% of the material in the universe was created, would have had to have been very short, indeed. If the wording is supposed to be somewhat consistent, such that each "day" or "age" represents a similar amount of time, this presents a big problem with each day representing millions or billions of years.

If you're trying to use a day-age interpretation to try and reconcile Genesis with science, there are many errors with the Biblical account. First, Earth was certainly not the first celestial body, and our sun was certainly not the first star. Also, birds did not come before land dwelling animals. Even if you still want to question the bird-dinosaur link, there's no question in science that birds evolved from land animals.

So, the day-age theory, or "a day in the life of God is like a thousand years to man" interpretations, are just weak. Even ignoring what science tells us of the evolution of life on Earth, and the history of the universe as far as star and planet formation, there would have been no way for plants to survive an entire age without having the sun for photosynthesis, or the animals that they required for pollination, germination, and seed dispersal.

Now, if you stop and look at Genesis as being written by a scientifically primitive society with no idea of the true history of the Earth and its animals...

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Intelligent Design

Well, I've been thinking of writing about Intelligent Design for awhile. With yesterday's ruling on the Kitzmiller vs. Dover Board of Education case, I figured that now was a good time to make a few comments. But it's a big topic, and lot's of bloggers already cover it in great detail, so I'll try to keep this entry relatively short and just say a few comments relevant to the Kitzmiller case.

A lot of people seem to be focusing on calling Intelligent Design a form of creationism. I think that's missing the point. If you go ahead and call it science, like the Discovery Institute and other ID proponents would like, then Intelligent Design is just plain bad science, or at the best, fringe science rejected by the scientific community at large. ID proponents like to compare this to Galileo, or other people whose ideas weren't accepted by the mainstream right away. A good rebuttal to this argument is on Respectful Insolence, which he calls the Galileo Gambit. Here's one of my favorite quotes from that entry, which Orac was actually himself quoting from the book, Why People Believe Weird Things, by Michael Shermer, "For every Galileo shown the instruments of torture for advocating scientific truth, there are a thousand (or ten thousand) unknowns whose 'truths' never pass scientific muster with other scientists. The scientific community cannot be expected to test every fanstastic claim that comes along, especially when so many are logically inconsistent." In other words, fringe science usually remains fringe science because it just plain isn't true. The few that actually become mainstream (like Galileo) do so based on the strength of their evidence.

Should we really be expected to teach in public school science classes an idea that's just plain bad? Some people like to invoke public opinion polls, saying how many people think ID should be taught alongside evolution. I think that's a horrible idea. For any particular subject area, curriculum should be determined by experts in that field, not the general public. I think the fact that so many people in the U.S. doubt evolution is all the more reason to teach it in school. The lack of acceptance is not due to lack of evidence or the fact that evolution doesn't/hasn't occured, it's due to lack of education. It's a problem that needs to be fixed, not an indicator that evolution shouldn't be taught as confidently as we teach other scientific theories (like gravity, germ theory, atomic theory, etc.) To put this in another way, you always read about those polls that say how poorly people do on geography, not knowing where certain countries are located or even not knowing whether certain countries exist. People usually take that as an indicator that we need better education in geography - it doesn't make them question whether said country actually exists. Why should it be different with evolution?

And to touch briefly on the "Teach the Controversy" mantra, high school science class isn't the place to do it, any more than history class is a place to question the holocaust, or math class is a place to question number theory. We're trying to give the students a solid foundation of knowledge. While we should promote critical thinking, at that point, with the limited scientific knowledge the students have, it's a waste of time, actually more than that, I'd consider it a disservice, to present students with a good theory and a bogus theory, and ask them to pick which one they think makes more sense. In that type of high school environment, I doubt many math students would buy into imaginary numbers or general relativity.

One of the things that bothers me about the pro-evolution side of the debate is overstressing the "naturalistic" nature of science. Granted, that's probably the best way to go about science, but if it were up to me, I'd like to change the definition to something more like "determining through the study of evidence the most likely explanations to observed phenomenon." It would be about trying to determine the truth, whether or not it can be explained in a naturalistic manner. In other words, if there were strong evidence that indicated a supernatural cause to a phenomenon, that evidence shouldn't be ruled out strictly because it's supernatural. That being said, there are reams of evidence available backing up much of evolutionary theory, and I personally don't see how any supernatural causes would have to be invoked to explain evolution, but I still think it's a bit close-minded to rule out a whole class of possible causes just because they aren't natural. To put it maybe in slightly better words, science should be evidence based, no matter the source of the evidence, as long as the evidence is credible.

Anyway, the above paragraph was just a preamble to this one. Many of the comments I've seen floating about since yesterday's decision are that "Darwinists" (going by that terminology, I guess I'm a Wrightist, since I'm an aerospace engineer) are clinging so desparately to evolution because they need an explanation that doesn't involve the supernatural. I think those types of arguments are a bunch of hooey. People like evolution because it's the best explanation of the evidence, whether you consider supernatural explanations or not. Just like I don't need to invoke the supernatural to explain how airplanes fly, because fluid dynamics and physics do a good job of explaining it. Just take a look at Talk Origins for a sampling of the pro-evolution evidence available. If you don't like Talk Origins, just spend some time reading some science magazines. Evolution just fits all of the data that we have available.

Anyway, a lot of this was more support of evolution than refutation of ID, but that's just the way it turned out.

Update 2007-02-28: Yeah, this is pretty late to make an update, but I just went back through and read this entry, now that I've studied this issue a little more, and see an area where I made a mistake - naturalism. Science operates by methodological naturalism (as opposed to metaphysical naturalism), which basically just means studying evidence. If you want to say ghosts were the cause of something, that's fine as a scientific theory, as long as you present some evidence for it. So, it's technically true that science operates via naturalism, and that this doesn't necessarily rule out mechanisms that people would normally consider "supernatural." Still, I think it's misleading to the general public, and the pro-reality side would be better served by stressing that science is "evidence based," no matter what the source of the evidence.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Retroactive Soapbox Entry- E-mails and Misinformation

Note: This is a post of an essay that first appeared on my website Janary 31st, 2004. The original essay can be found here. This is part of an ongoing effort to put all of my soapbox entries onto this blog, to give a space for user feedback. A "new" retroactive post will be made every Monday.

31 January 2004

I've received quite a few e-mail forwards over the years, running the gamut from jokes to links, to factoids and stories, and even including a few constructive ones. I don't mind the jokes so much- just don't make sure they're funny and don't fill up my inbox with them. Same thing with the links. But when it comes to the factoids and stories- please make sure that they're true, and not just urban legends. It's amazing how many e-mails I receive with false information. At least I'm skeptical, and I know to dismiss most of them. But it seems that 90% of the people on the internet believe everything they read, so they continue to forward these e-mails with false information. And false information can be harmful- not just in the general sense of dumbing down society, it can have actual, concrete consequences as well.

I recently received an e-mail telling me to boycott Tommy Hilfiger's clothes, because he's supposedly a racist, and even came out and admitted it on Oprah Winfrey's show. Well, not only did he never make any racist remarks, he has never even been on Winfrey's show. In 1994, he even won the National Humanitarian Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews. (See details) But people continue to believe this e-mail, and keep forwarding it on to everyone they know, at the same time thinking they they will boycott Hilfiger's clothes, because they think he is a racist. So, Hilfiger receives a bad rap as being a racist, as well as losing money because people aren't buying his clothes. Not only does this hurt him, it hurts his employees as well, since their paychecks come from the clothes that the company sells.

Another false e-mail I've received is the one about how if you use your cell phone at the gas station, it might somehow make the fuel vapors explode. Well, the Petroleum Equipment Institute, which keeps track of such incidents, has not documented any cases of cellular phones causing fires at gas stations. This rumor may seem inocuous enough. Fifteen years ago we all did just fine without cell phones- how much could it hurt to not use one for the fifteen minutes it takes to fuel up your car? In December of 2003, I was at the Olney airport in Texas with the company I work for, as part of the ground crew to support flight testing. Another man at the airport had just finished some maintenance on his plane, and was taking it on the first flight. He noticed fuel leaking out of the wing tanks and getting all over the wings. He decided to bring it back in to land. He had read that e-mail about the cell phones and gas stations, so he made sure to get his cell phone and shut it off before it made his plane explode. What he forgot to do was put the landing gear back down. Luckily for him, one of my coworkers had just finished up what he was doing in the hangar, and decided to go out and watch this plane land. He noticed that the gear was up, and called out to the guy by the radio to let the pilot know. With just a few feet to spare, the pilot managed to do a go around, so he could come back in for another landing with the gear down. Landing an airplane is demanding enough without any distractions to worry about. The distraction of an emergency is pretty bad. Add on top of that the distraction of fumbling around to try and find a cell phone and shut it off, and you've got a recipe for disaster- which this nearly was. It's impossible to say that this pilot would have remembered to put his landing gear down if he hadn't have read that e-mail, but I think it was definitely a contributing factor. It distracted him from focusing on his job at hand, which was flying the plane.

And I'm not even going to get into the slew of right-wing e-mails that I receive, that do little more than create intolerance of other cultures with little or no actual facts to back them up.

So how do you figure out if the e-mail you've just read is true, or if it's just another urban legend. Well, there are lots of web sites out there to help you. My favorite is The writers of this site have already done a lot of the research for you. They gather up all of these e-mail rumors, and try to determine their truthfullness. But just remember, they're only human, and they can still make mistakes, just like the rest of us. It wouldn't hurt you to do a little follow up research on your own after reading those sites. And if you still think the story is true, then you can forward it on to your friends.

But what about factoids- those e-mails with dozens of little interesting facts that you'd never heard of before. I have yet to find a single good source for refuting or confirming these facts. So unless you're willing to spend a lot of time researching each individual bit of trivia, you're probably best just to ignore these e-mails. Out of the ones I've gotten, at least 3/4 of the facts are either flat out untrue, or very misleading. In fact, your best bet for those types of e-mails may be to just hit the delete button, and not even bother reading them.

So in short, if you're one of those people whose idea of keeping in touch is to forward every little joke or anecdote that you receive- stop it. Nobody wants their inboxes filled up with forwards from the guy they used to know ten years ago in high school. It's still okay to send a few forwards. Just keep it down to one or two a day, max. And if you're going to send stories or trivia, make sure that they're true first. If you send false information, you have no idea who it's going to harm.

Further Reading:
E-mails and Misinformation, Part II
Factoids Debunked & Verified

Thursday, December 15, 2005

I Can't Escape Fundamentalists Even When I'm Researching Pure Science

I'm a nerd. Just about anybody who knows me is aware of that fact. It means that at any given moment, I'm likely to be thinking nerdy, technical things. I bring this up to explain this next sentence I'm about to write. The other day, I was thinking about tree ring dating, or dendrochronology, and wondering how far back people have been able to date things using that technique. dendrochronology is based on the simple premise of counting tree rings to figure out how old a piece of wood is. A fancy trick that you can use to extend your dates, since the rings show patterns based on varying conditions from year to year, is to match up one of those patterns on one tree with the same pattern on an older tree.

So, I did a Google search on "tree ring oldest date" to see what I could find, and the second entry that Google returned to me was this page on Answers in Genesis, a site run by a bunch of people who hold to a literal interpretation of the Bible. Why, when I'm looking up something scientific, is the second best result from Google a page by young earth creationists? (It reminds me of another time when I looked up "electron probability cloud," and the first result on Google was this creationist page. What does the Bible have to do with particle physics?)

If that was the whole story, I probably wouldn't have even bothered to write a blog entry. It would have been an annoyance, but not much else. But there's more. When I do Google searches, most of the time I don't really look at the url of the page before clicking on it. So, even though I wouldn't normally go visit the Answers in Genesis site on purpose, I clicked this link to take me there. Once I realized what site it was, I thought, what the hell, as long as I'm here, I might as well read what they have to say. Their basic problem was that if Noah's flood occurred around 4350 years ago, and tree ring dating indicates trees older than that that weren't disturbed by a worldwide flood, then there's got to be a problem somewhere. And obviously, they blamed the science.

The article put forward several explanations of why dendrochronology might be problematic, but here's the quote that really got me, the one that got me worked up enough to write this blog entry. The article said, "However, when the interpretation of scientific data contradicts the true history of the world as revealed in the Bible, then it’s the interpretation of the data that is at fault." Of course! Because noone's ever been wrong in their interpretation of the Bible. Like those jews who thought that the Messiah would be a warrior, or in the Middle Ages, when the church arrested Gallileo for teaching that horribly heretical idea that the sun was at the center of the solar system.

That really disturbs me that people have that mindset, that they already "know" what the truth is, and no amount of evidence is going to change their mind. How can people be so close-minded? It especially bothers me considering what they're basing it on. I mean, when it comes to scientific questions like the age of the earth, which would you rather bet on, a preponderance of scientific data and the theories explaining that data, or an interpretation of a translation of a collection of writings compiled from many different authors over the course of centuries, that hasn't had any new material added since not long after the death of Christ? Oh, and the translations are based off of copies of the originals, since the original versions no longer exist. I know where I'd put my money.

Anyway, here's a decent primer on dendrochronology, without all the fundamentalist blabber. By the way, at least in the region that this article focuses on, they've been able to extend the chronology back to around 9,000 years ago.

Monday, December 12, 2005

New Carter Prop

At my job, we've done some thrust testing of a propeller that I had a large hand in designing (pretty much all of the aerodynamics, and probably about 90% of the composite structure). It's a prop designed for the Rotax 582 engine. Our prop produced 16% more static thrust than the best conventional prop that Larry Neal (designer of the Monarch ultralight gyro) could find. So, I thought that was pretty good. If you want to read more about it, you can do so at the weekly update on Carter Aviation Technologies.

Update 2005-12-13 I've decided to include a picture of the prop, so that you can see how it's different from conventional propellers without having to dig through the archives of the Carter site to find a photo.
Carter Prop Designed for Rotax 582 Engine

Retroactive Soapbox Entry- Squeamish People & the Morality of Wasting Animals

Note: This is a post of an essay that first appeared on my website Janary 14th, 2004. The original essay can be found here. This is part of an ongoing effort to put all of my soapbox entries onto this blog, to give a space for user feedback. A "new" retroactive post will be made every Monday.

14 January 2004

I don't mind killing animals to eat, but I don't like to see animals killed for no reason. I'm pretty sure that's the consensus in the Western world, since most people aren't vegetarians, but still don't like the idea of killing animals themselves. What gets me is that even though people don't want to see animals die needlessly, those same people are unwilling to eat foods such as pigs feet, scrapple, or sausage in a natural casing just because they're "disgusting." They're all just body parts of the animal, just like muscle is a body part. And the more parts of an animal you eat, the further that single animal goes, and the less animals have to die to feed you. Pork chops are my favorite part of the pig, but I'm also willing to eat hot dogs, scrapple, bacon, and a lot of the other scraps. That way, a single pig will feed me for probably about a month. If all I ate were the pork chops, I'd have to kill four pigs to feed me in that same time span. Not only is that being cruel by killing more animals, it's also being irresponsible environmentally, since it takes the same resources to raise each pig.

Although it's not nearly the same magnitude, I see those people as akin to poachers killing a rhino for a single horn, or fishermen killing a shark just for its fins. It's wasteful. It's only taking the favorite parts, and then just leaving the rest of the animal.

The way I see it, even if you don't kill the animal personally, if you pay for the meat, you're responsible for its death. The rancher wouldn't have killed it if he hadn't have known that you were going to buy it. So if you're going to take an animal's life to eat it, you better use the whole animal.

Related Link: Terrapin Tables thread

Recycling Soapbox Entries

I'd originally intended to post new soapbox entries on this site to give a place for user feedback. That quickly got me to thinking, what about my old soapbox entries? I want to give user feedback for them, too. But what's the best way to do it? I could post them all at once, but then they would get lost in old posts, and there probably wouldn't be very lively discussion about them (who am I kidding, like this blog's ever going to get lot's of people visiting it. One of my favorite's, Pooflinger's Anonymous, is fairly popular and even it only gets a handful of comments). Anyway, I decided that the way I'm going to do it is to post one retroactive soapbox entry every Monday. That gives me a ready stock of postings for two and a half months, albeit none of it original. Don't worry, I'm going to try and post at least one or two original entries to this blog every week.

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

A Meandering Tale About Fundamentalism

Well, since this is the first day of my blog, I want to get a real entry on it, so here goes.

A few weeks ago, my family and I went to a flea market. At one of the stands, when the vendor found out that it was my wife's birthday, he gave her a CD as a present. It was from a collection of religious materials that had caught my eye before (since I've been spending so much time recently thinking about & researching religious fundamentalism). It was titled something like "What Hollywood Believes," and had the name Ray Comfort written across the top. There were all types of little blurbs on the CD case, which lead me and my wife to believe that it was going to be full of either interviews with, or monologues by, celebrities talking about their religious beliefs.

It took a while for us to actually listen to the CD, but on a car ride down to my wife's family on Thanksgiving, she popped it into the car CD player to see what it was like. It turns out that, no, this wasn't interviews or monologues, it was a sermon by this Ray Comfort fellow. It doesn't start off too bad. A few introductions and a little humor, but then the lunacy began. All types of logical fallacies and inane comments, which maybe I'll go into more detail on in a followup blog entry. Anyway, my six year old daughter was sitting in the back seat, and with as impressionable as kids are, I didn't want her hearing everything this guy was saying and just accepting it as truth. So, I spoke up quite a bit during his talking, countering a lot of his arguments. Well, after about ten minutes of that, my wife got fed up with my speaking over it, so she turned off the radio.

A few days later as I was driving into work, I went to turn on the radio to listen to NPR like I normally do on my drive in. Well, this CD was still in there, so I decided just to let it play for a little while to see what he had to say. And it wasn't any better than on Thanksgiving. There were a few arguments that were so bad that I actually responded out loud, even though there was nobody else in the car. Here's the one that I thought was the worst. He was trying to discredit evolution, making it look silly compared to a literal interpretation of the Bible. He said something to the effect of, "Just think about it. The first fish to come up out of the sea to walk on land needed gills to breathe in the sea, but it also needed lungs to breathe on land. If it was a land animal, what was it doing with gills? And if it was a sea animal, what was it doing with lungs?" Boy, oh boy. Is this guy not even aware of living animals. The first two things that popped into my mind were African lungfish, and mudskippers, both of which can breathe underwater or on land. A little internet research found that there are many fish that can breathe air, like the bettas that are so popular at pet stores. It's mainly an adaptation to lving in oxygen poor environments. There are even a few fish where air breathing is their primary means of obtaining oxygen.

So anyway, I wrote my wife a short e-mail about it, saying how I couldn't believe people could be so stupid to buy into arguments like his, not just the ones about evolution, but his religious arguments in general. Well, when my wife read that e-mail, one of her co-workers was standing over her shoulder at the time. After reading it, she turned to my wife and said, "You don't believe in evolution, do you?" And that got them started into a big long debate about religion.

If you've been following the news, you may have heard about the girl with the peanut allergy who died after kissing her boyfriend, because her boyfriend had just eaten something with peanut butter. It's really sad. Anyway, Irma and some co-workers were talking about it, when said co-worker walks in and says, "that's what you get for french-kissing a boy when you're only fifteen." Just stop and think about that. She's saying that proper punishment for a french kiss is death. What a callous, self-righteous person. I can think of stronger words to say, but I want to try to keep this blog civil. It's just kind of an indication of the kinds of attitudes that fundmentalists hold, and it's kind of scary.

Anyway, that's my meandering story, from a flea market just outside Houston, to my wife's co-worker. It just really amazes me the attitudes some people have in this country.

Website Update- New Blog

Well, I finally jumped on the bandwagon and started my own blog, which I'm going to call Jeff's Lunchbreak, since my lunchbreak is about the only time I get to work on this site. I've been debating doing this for a while, now, trying to figure out the best way to organize my site without watering down my other two writing sections. But since I've been considering it, several things have happened to me that I've wanted to write short essays about, but didn't figure belonged in the My Writings section of the site, or even in my Soapbox, which convinced me to finally take the plunge and make a blog. So, that brings the total to three sections on my site devoted to essays. I figure I can still get away with it by making the main My Writings section devoted to my more serious, well researched essays, the type of thing that I wouldn't mind having published in a book or magazine; having my Soapbox be devoted to issues that were more controversial and topical, but still trying to keep them relatively well researched, kind of like extended op-eds; and then having the blog be for all the short essays that were left over.

So, I've added a link to the blog to the main My Writings page, and did a little reorganization to that page to make it clear that two of the links (the Soapbox and the blog) were to collections of essays, and that the rest of the links were to actual individual essays.

Just as a note, I'm going to post all of these updates that usually go on my homepage to the blog, but not vice versa. That way, if anyone every actually subscribes to the RSS feed for the blog, they'll get normal website updates along with it. I'm also going to include copies of all new soapbox entries to the blog, to give visitors a section for feedback.

First Entry

I decided to start up a blog on this site. I figured it would be a place where I could write about things that just didn't belong on my main site. So, that brings the total to three sections on my site devoted to essays. There's the My Writings section, which I tend to think of as well researched, well thought out essays (or at least, anything new that get's added to that section will be). Then there's my Soapbox, which is for more opinionated essays. Now that I've got a blog, I figure I'll have the soapbox entries be relatively well thought out and researched, but they may not be as good as the essays going into My Writings. And now, I've got this blog. This will be where I can just write off a quick reaction to things that I read in the news, relate personal experiences, or just go off ranting about whatever I want, without doing any research- basically the types of things bloggers have been doing for years. I figure that I'll also include updates to my main site on this blog, and I'll copy all new soapbox entries in this blog, to give a section for user feedback. Speaking of feedback, I'm initially going to set up this blog to allow anonymous commenting. If it becomes a problem with people abusing it, I'll consider making people have to sign up for accounts.

So far, I'm using pretty much the default user interface that came with Movable Type, with just a few small changes to the .css to make this blog a little more consistent with my main site. I figure I'll concentrate on getting a few entries on here that I have in mind before I start worrying too much about the way the blog looks. After all, content is king, appearance is only secondary.

By the way, the name was picked because I tend to work on my website during my lunchbreak at work - it's about the only time during the day that I get a chance to.

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