Skepticism, Religion Archive

Friday, January 20, 2012

Jessica Ahlquist, School Prayer, and Christian Love

This is old news by now, and has certainly made the rounds in the skeptical blogosphere, but like I often do, I'm repeating this for friends and family who don't frequent the same areas of the web that I do.

Cranston West School PrayerAt Cranston High School West in Rhode Island, there was a mural painted to look like a banner with a prayer on it. For reference, here's the full text of the prayer (per WPRI):

Our Heavenly Father, Grant us each day the desire to do our best, To grow mentally and morally as well as physically, To be kind and helpful to our classmates and teachers, To be honest with ourselves as well as with others, Help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win, Teach us the value of true friendship, Help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston High School West. Amen

The mural had been there for decades, but just recently, it has become the focus of some controversy. The short story is that a student, Jessica Ahlquist, complained to the adminstration that the banner was illegal and that it marginalized non-Christians. The school didn't listen, so she went to the ACLU. The ACLU told the school that the banner was clearly illegal, and that there wouldn't even be a debate if it were to go to court. The school still did nothing. So, the ACLU followed through, filed a lawsuit, and unsurprisingly, a judge ruled that mural had to be removed. As part of his opinion, he wrote:

No amount of debate can make the School Prayer anything other than a prayer.

Well, as you can expect, throughout the whole affair the 'good' Christians of Cranston have not been happy about this at all. It really has brought out the worst in some people. The blog, JesusFetusFajitaFishsticks, has a collection of some of the comments that have been directed at Jessica. Of course, there are the usual Christian threats that she'll burn in Hell, along with lots of people calling her a bitch. There are some threats that get even more explicit, such as:

Fuck Jessica alquist I'll drop anchor on her face
Let's all jump that girl who did the banner #fuckthatho
"@Ry_Simoneau: But for real somebody should jump this girl" lmao let's do it!
@jessicaahlquist your home address posted online i cant wait to hear about you getting curb stomped you fucking worthless cunt

As that last comment pointed out, someone even published her home address in the comments section of the local paper. In fact, the threats were so bad, that Jessica had to get police protection.

And it's not just young students acting out against Jessica. Grown adults are getting in on the act. Rhode Island State Representative Peter Palumbo, a Democrat, made some comments about Jessica on the John DePetro Show. He called her, perhaps somewhat jokingly, "an evil little thing". He also said, "Poor thing. And it’s not her fault. She’s being trained to be like that." When pressed on it, he relented a bit on her, but said that "she's being coerced by evil people." Seriously. An elected official is calling people evil for asking a school to take down a sectarian prayer.

On the petty side, local florist shops are refusing to deliver flowers to Jessica. The organization that was trying to send her the flowers eventually went to an out of state florist. According the the FFRF press release:

FFRF was forced to go to an out of state business, Glimpse of Gaia, in Putnam, Conn., which not only agreed to deliver the flowers but threw in a second bouquet from the shop with its own message, “Glimpse of Gaia fully supports our First Amendment and will not be bullied by those who do not. Here’s to you, Jessica Ahlquist.”

This whole ordeal has revealed quite a bit of hatred and bad behavior over someone simply asking a school to follow the law of the land and respect the Constitution. It's certainly revealed the ugly side of Christianity, and shown Jessica Ahlquist to be a very courageous young woman.


Here are a few sites where you can show your support for Jessica:
jessicaahlquist.com
Support Jessica Ahlquist
Evil Little Shirts

Here's one more link to a news story:
Rhode Island Teen's Battle Against Prayer Banner Has Gone 'Too Far,' Mayor Says

And I'll also note that The Digital Cuttlefish has devoted quite a few blog entries to creating verse about this situation. It's well worth browsing through that site to read them (as well as all the other poems).

Monday, January 9, 2012

How Much Gas to Charge an iPhone?

iPhone GasI got a link to an interesting article recently, How many gallons of gasoline would it take to charge an iPhone?. The article was published on ExxonMobil's Perspectives blog. It was an attempt to put into perspective just how much energy there is in gasoline, and why it's so useful as a fuel.

Early on, the article presented a 'fact', without any rationale to back it up:

All of the energy concentrated in one gallon of gasoline is enough to charge an iPhone once a day for almost 20 years.

So, I thought I'd run some numbers to see just how reasonable this was.

First, what's the energy content of a gallon of gas? According to Wikipedia's Energy densities page, the energy density of gasoline is 47.2 megajoules per kilogram. A gallon of gas weighs about 6 lbs, for a mass of about 13.2 kg 2.73 kg. Multiplying by the energy density gives 623.04 MJ 128.73 MJ in a gallon of gas.

Now, for something that took a little more work, what's the energy content of the iPhone battery. According to Wikipedia's iPhone 4 page, the battery is 3.7V at 1420 mAh. (An Ah is the "the electric charge transferred by a steady current of one ampere for one hour" - Wikipedia). So, doing a simple calculation on that, let's figure out the power the battery is putting out, and then how much energy that would be after the one hour for the Ah:

P = IV
P = 1.42A * 3.7V
P = 5.254W

As a sanity check, that's in line with what some random guy on the Internet claimed on Yahoo Answers, according to his kill-a-watt power meter.

And since energy is equal to Power times time:

E = Pt
E = 5.254W * 3600s
E = 18,914.4J

So, if we simply divide the energy content of the gas by the energy content of the battery, we get 32,940 charges 6806 charges. Assuming a charge every day for a year, that's 90.2 years 18.6 years. Now, of course, there are inefficiencies in the systems, so that's not right. Gasoline engines in cars are typically on the order of 25% - 30% efficient (per Wikipedia), and their alternators are typically on the order of 50% - 60% efficient. However, permanent alternators run optimally can have efficiencies in the high 90%'s (again, per Wikipedia).

So, the claim that there's enough energy in a gallon of gas to charge an iPhone every day for 20 years seems pretty reasonable (in reality, when you look at the efficiencies, you won't be able to put all that energy into charging the phone).

An iPhone may not be huge, but 20 years is a pretty long time. It really just goes to show how much energy gasoline contains, and why it's so useful for powering vehicles.


As a side note, this is why I personally think that biofuels offer so much hope. If a way can be found to efficiently convert biomass into a gasoline like fuel (such as some of the studies on algae), we'd have a high density energy source that could take advantage of existing infrastructure. No waiting overnight to charge batteries - just a quick 10 minute stop at the pump to fill up with dead algae.

Update 2012-05-08 As a reader pointed out, I made a boneheaded error in my conversion from pounds to kilograms (stupid metric system). I corrected it, striking through the wrong numbers and replacing them with the correct ones.

Monday, December 19, 2011

War on Christmas, 2011

Santa in the CrosshairsWe're well into the War on Christmas, with less than a week left to try to destroy the holiday this year. I've already written my post this year complaining about the Salvation Army, and I've written in years past about the whole War on Christmas, so there's not much for me to add this year. So, I think I'm just going to post a bunch of links.

But first, I think I'm going to make a tradition of something I did last year, and embed a YouTube video of Tim Minchin's 'White Whine in the Sun'.

My previous War on Christmas posts:

The Digital Cuttlefish has quite a few Christmas poems. At the bottom of the first link below, he's provided a list of everything he posted this year. So, I'll just link to that one, plus a poem he wrote last year that I really like.


And that's it for my War on Christmas this year.


Added 2011-12-19 - Okay, one more thing. Here's a spoof on the Charlie Brown Christmas special that I couldn't resist posting (from Calamities of Nature). Just click on the image to see it full size.

Calamities of Nature Comic on Charlie Brown Christmas

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

God in Football

Touchdown JesusI just so happened to watch the Denver Chicago game over the weekend (I'm not a huge sports fan, so that's pretty rare), and I caught the after the game sideline interview with the Broncos quarterback, Tim Tebow. He started off by acknowledging his "Lord and Savior Jesus Christ", and apparently, he's well know for his strong faith.

Athletes thanking Jesus is nothing new. I always thought it was a bit odd to think that God would favor one team's prayers over another's, or that God would be a Broncos fan, but I'd gotten used to it. But, a blog website I read on a regular basis, Why Evolution Is True, also just so happened to discuss Tebow's religiosity, and one of the comments on that site presented something novel.

If you really believe there is a powerful supernatural agent that can actually affect the outcome of a football game in your favor, how the heck is this not cheating? If a powerful psychic was steering the ball around from the sidelines, this is obviously an unfair advantage. Once again, God gets a special exemption.

I'd never looked at it that way before. Anyway, I don't have any deep commentary. I just thought it was funny and I wanted to share.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Salvation Army - To Give, or Not to Give?

Salvation Army?It's that time of year when you can't go shopping without hearing the familiar ringing of bells being rung by the person standing next to the hanging red kettle, wishing you a Merry Christmas, grateful for any change you might have. I'd always given to the Salvation Army, usually more than just a bit of spare change, but now that I've begun paying attention to some of the criticisms of the organization, I wonder whether I want to support them.

First things first, the Salvation Army does a lot of good. Their thrift stores are well known, as well as their help to the needy. Perhaps slightly less well known are their disaster relief, rehabilitation centers, and homeless shelters, as well as a few programs I'm sure I've forgotten. And let me also dispel a prominent rumor. The bell ringers don't take a cut from the red kettle (see Snopes).

But, they're not without controversy. Keep in mind, the Salvation isn't just a charity. They're a church. They take positions on issues that would otherwise have nothing to do with their charity work. Take a look at this page on their site:

Salvation Army USA - Position Statements

They have positions on:

  • Abortion
  • Alcohol and Drugs
  • Economic Justice
  • Euthanasia
  • Gambling
  • Homosexuality
  • Human Equality
  • Human Trafficking
  • Marriage
  • Pornography
  • Religious Persecution
  • Suicide

Their positions are exactly what you'd expect from the religious right. For example, here's part of what they have to say about gambling.

The Salvation Army believes that gambling engages its participants and promoters in an exercise of greed contrary to biblical moral teaching. Gambling at best wastes personal resources, and at worst afflicts millions through a lifestyle of compulsive behaviors and destructive influences.

And just to show what they consider so bad:

Some examples of gambling include casino games, state lotteries, and betting on sports.

Moving on to something that's more of an active political discussion right now, here's part of their statement on homosexuality.

Scripture forbids sexual intimacy between members of the same sex. The Salvation Army believes, therefore, that Christians whose sexual orientation is primarily or exclusively same-sex are called upon to embrace celibacy as a way of life. There is no scriptural support for same-sex unions as equal to, or as an alternative to, heterosexual marriage.

And here's the beginning of their statement on marriage.

The Salvation Army affirms the New Testament standard of marriage, which is the loving union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. Marriage is the first institution ordained by God (Genesis 2:24), and His Word establishes its significance (Matthew 19:4-6).

Now, if they just had position statements, as bad as they are, that would be one thing. But the Salvation Army actively works to support their positions. The most famous example from this country was when New York City passed the Equal Benefits Bill, requiring all organizations receiving public funds to provide the same benefits to "domestic partners" as they do to spouses. The Salvation Army threatened to quit receiving public funding rather than abide by the law, which would have in effect shut down the majority of their operations in the city.

Then, there are numerous local incidents - none which are officially supported by Salvation Army headquarters, but which are still rather widespread. Someone else has already covered this pretty well, so here's a link to their article on the issue:

ARISE - Do not donate to the Salvation Army

Here's just a sampling of some of those local incidents:

Aside from how their positions affect their own charitable donations, here's an example of them trying to 'steal' money from another charity. When H. Guy Di Stefano died, he wanted his estate to be split evenly between 8 charities. One of them, Greenpeace International, was absorbed by the Greenpeace Fund between the writing of the will and Di Stefano's death. The money that was to go to Greenpeace International was going to go to the Greenpeace Fund, and none of the other charities had a problem with that, except for the Salvation Army. They argued that because it wasn't the same charity named in the will, that the money should be split evenly between the 7 remaining charities. An agreement was reached, and The Army's lawsuit was dropped.

More Info:
Seattle Times - Salvation Army settles its dispute over Issaquah man's $33 million bequest

And then, there's their cult like treatment of officers in their church. They can only marry other officers in the church. And it's not an empty threat. A few years ago, they did terminate an officer when he became engaged to someone from outside the organization.

More Info:
Christian Post - Salvation Army Leader to Lose Job for Violating Marriage Policy


So, what's a person to do? I think it's up to the person and how they're realistically going to respond. It's not as if the Salvation Army is the only game in town. There are plenty of worthwhile charities that don't have such horrible positions. My wife and I already donate to several charities, but I've decided to donate just a little more to make up for what I used to put into the red kettles.

But, I do think the Salvation Army does much more good than harm. So, if the only way you would donate would be to drop your change into one of their kettles, then don't hold back! Most of your money will go to helping people, and it's better than doing nothing at all. So in that case, go ahead and give the Salvation Army your spare change.

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