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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Quick note about topics.

Well, it seems the people have spoken.  It appears that, outside of a few loyal readers, most of the people out there are interested in the cryptids and religious issues that free thinkers, atheists, and skeptical folks in general face.  So I'll probably bend to peer pressure and look into these issues more.  That's not to say that these don't interest me as well.  As a matter of fact, I'm actually very interested in these items.  I originally intended this to be a more broad spectrum blog, looking at a wide range of topics.  Granted, if something interesting in say, homeopathy, were to pop up on my crap-dar (a skeptical form of radar, available from the good folks at ACME, the makers of the Do-it-Yourself self launching Trebutchet), I'll still write about it.  And of course, I do take requests.  You can leave them in the comments.  If you hear of something that you want me to write about or discuss, let me know.  I hope to hear from everyone of you soon.  And I know who you are.  Until next time, be good, and be rational.  (I kinda want to end these with Live Long and Prosper, or May the Force be with you, but neither Leonard Nimoy or George Lucas have responded to the various e-mails, letters, and bricks in their mailboxes.)

The Skeptical Okie

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Religious Freedom vs. Human Rights

Ok guys, I know it's been litttle while, but suprisingly enough, I'm still fighting the good fight here in the bible belt.  Between listening to people spout theories about President Obama, 9-11, flouride in the water, the pecan tree in the front yard dropping a branch on my windshield, and the normal bull that comes and goes in waves, and trying to find a new job, I've been a little swamped.  But I am still looking for new topics to try and either clear the mud or stoke the fire about.

The only thing I've got for you this week is basically a question of a violation of religious beliefs and personal rights.  What I'm talking about is a recent suit  filed by an Oklahoma company called Hobby Lobby.  I don't know if these are nation wide or regional, but it is basically a Wal-Mart for craft supplies.  I'll admit, I've gone in to some of these stores looking for projects or the odd piece of decoration for the house.  Overall, it's not a bad store, and they don't have an overly religious feel to them.  You know what I mean.  That feeling of being expected to say the lords prayer on command or the random urge to beginn speaking in Latin.  It's kinda fun in there, and with a small child that is obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine and any other type of train, it can be an experience.  Back to the main point.  Much like Chik-filet, Hobby Lobby is run by an extremely religious family.  I have stopped going to said chicken store because they donate a large part of their profits to religious based groups that are completely against my personal beliefs, and honestly, a strike against common sense.  I haven't heard if Hobby Lobby does the same, but they did file a suit against the government because they are now required to include birth control in their insurance for their employees.  They are stating that this is a violation of their religious beliefs.  Now where does it say that they, as in the owners, have to use contraceptives, only offer them to their employees.  Unfortunately, the suit is backed by some fairly powerful people, including Senator Tom "Climate change isn't real, keep burning fossil fuels" Coburn and Rep James Lankford.  Coburn has links to "The Family",  which has caused some problems in a couple of African countries.  I'll try and write about this pretty soon, because these people are a real pain in the ass.  Both of these men are, of course, republicans in Oklahoma, which means they are also christian fundamentalists.  If they aren't, then they act the part on T.V. to keep their numbers up high enough for elections.  The main arguement that the Green family (the owners of Hobby Lobby and Mardels, which I'll talk about in a minute) is using in this suit is that this is a violation of their religious freedom.  No one is stopping them from practicing their religion in any way they want, short of sacrificing for a fruitful harvest.   The law merely states that they should provide contraception through insurance.  It's not like their being told they have to stand at the door and hand birth control pills and condoms to everyone as they leave for the evening.  Some people will say simply to avoid having sex.  (Keep in mind that the fundies are also the ones that say the wife should be submissive to their husbands.)  Some people will say if you want contraceptives provided by your employer, go work some place else.  That is not as simple as it sounds.  If they are single income families, they may not be able to take time to look for another job.  I know the internet is now open 24 hours a day, but not everyone has access to the inter-tubes.  While Hobby Lobby may claim religious discrimination, I think that this may actually constitute a violation of personal rights.  Honestly, it could even be viewed as failure to provide medical care.  Personaly, I feel that they should go ahead and offer the insurance to their workers, and not use it themselves.  Like I've said in the past, I don't really have a problem with a persons religion, unless their trying to cram it down my throat.

A quick note about Mardels here in Oklahoma.  I recently took a job as a middle school science teacher, which is a story in itself.  Matter of fact, it's several stories.  Anyway, my wife and I were needing to get a few things to try and dress up my classroom.  We tried Hobby Lobby, but couldn't find the inspirational and factual posters that you normally see on the walls in most classes in America.  A few of the other teachers kept mentioning going to Mardels, even though it;s a little expensive.  I only knew of the place from some friends that have crosses hanging on their walls.  Mardels was started by Mart Green, son of the founder of Hobby Lobby.  (What kind of name is Mart anyway?)  We figured we should go and see what they have.  Upon arriving at the store, there was a guy selling crosses right outside the door, though he didn't offer any of his wares to us.  The whole way to the door, my wife basically kept telling me to behave, which I'm proud to say I did.  We went in and I had an instant cold chill run up my spine.  Have you ever walked into a room and realized this is not somewhere you whould be at?  I've walked into a house full of gang members complete with guns and pit bulls on chains and didn't get that feeling.  It happened here.  To the right, half of the interior was full of psalms on posters, crosses, jesus fish, bibles, etc.  To the back and left was school decorations and books.  I glanced at some of the books and they were for home schooling.  Fine.  Look closer.  Home schooling teaching creationism as being the only viable science.  Head got hot, vision fuzzy.  Walk away.  Look at posters.  They actually had a pretty nice selection.  One problem I had was that in 8th grade science, you teach physics, chemistry, biology, ecology, and EVOLUTION!  At least by the core standards.  I did find a little about evolution, but I was more concerned with the basics.  The reason for this particular kinda non-sequitor blurb is this is about the only place to find the cheesy feel good posters, anatomy, geolgy, biology, math, history, and other normal items you'll find in any class across the country.  Why the hell is a hardcore christian store nearly the only place to find room supplies for school?  I mean thats kinda like going to an AA meeting and ordering a pint of Guinness.  I actually got nervous  in the store.  I kept waiting for someone with a German Shepard to run to the front and start yelling "THERE ARE UNBELIEVERS IN THE STORE.  EVERYONE STAY CALM AND RECITE THE LORDS PRAYER UNTIL THEY ARE FOUND."  Yeah I know, at times I get weird thoughts, but hey, that just shows I'm normal, right?  Right? 

It's getting late, so I'd better head out.  Until next time, be true to yourself, and help others come to the skeptical light. 

The Skeptical Okie

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Cryptids and other interesting fauna

To anyone that reads this blog on a regular basis, sorry that it has taken so long to get a new one out.  I recently began teaching 8th grade science, and it's an experience that I won't soon forget.   Things have been pretty damn chaotic.  Hopefully, it'll calm down soon.  But to the loyal folks, thank you for hanging in there.

The first topic I wanted to talk about is an example of bigfoots (bigfeet mayhaps?)  and cars not being a good mix.   The article can be found at http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2012/08/28/bigfoot-hoax-ends-in-death-authorities-say/?iref=allsearch .  The basic gist of the story is that a guy was running around dressed as a bigfoot as was hit by a car, was killed.  This does actually bring up the debate about killing any cryptids.  Texas basically said that because they don't exist, it is legal to shoot a bigfoot.  Kinda mind numbing logic on the surface, but if you think about it, it does make sense.  Hunting regulations are designed to manage the populations of game animals and native wildlife.  Texas said that because there is no definitive proof that bogfoots actually exist, there are no regulations or limits on them.  Thats fine.  Unfortunately, this statement has 2 immediate effects.  The first is that it seems to send the message that there are bigfoots running around Texas.  I will admit that I have seen some really tall guys down there, but unless some bigfoot group is using a lot of Nair or electrolysis treatments, I don't think they count.  The second problem is that some people prefer to shoot first and to hell with the questions.  On one episode of Monster Hunters on the chupacabra, a boy in Texas stated "I didn't know what it was, so I shot it."  I am worried that this may lead to people being shot because they thought it would be funny to scare people by running around in the woods dressed in a gilly suit or a bigfoot costume.  I don't feel that cryptids should recieve protective status like Nessie and several others have in recent years, but I do feel that Texas handled the question badly.  They could have simply said that there is no proof that they exist, and odds are if you see one, it's probably a person in a suit, so use common sense and don't just shoot at it.  I'll admit I was intrigued by the story at first, but as I thought about it more, I realized that aside from a perfectly good practical joke going horribly wrong,  it was a waste of a human life.

If you listen to a lot of skeptic or believer podcasts, Monster Hunters, Monster Quest, or anything of that ilk, you've probably heard the terms cryptid, crypto, and cryptozoologist.  I have met a lot of people that hear the terms and don't really know what they mean.  Cryptid basically means a hidden animal, and therefore a cryptozoologist is a person that studies a hidden animal.  Some people use the term crypto instead of cryptid, or they use it as a plural form.  I will be the first to admit that I am fascinated by the stories around these "animals", but I don't think that it is likely they exist.  Loch Ness for example is not a very likely site for a breeding population of plesiasaurs.  First of all, it's too small to contain an animal of that size for a long period of time, let alone a breeding population.  Secondly, it is too recently formed by about 30 million years.  For the chupacabra, you can actually trace the story back to the first report in Puerto Rico in 1995.  In the scant 17 years, it has undergone a major change from an alien like creature (for those of you old enough, think Species) to a hairless canine.  Ben Radford from the Monster Talk podcast spent 5 years researching this case and has determined, as well as wildlife biologists, that it is normally a canine with mange that most people report as a chupacabra.  And now for the big man on campus, Bigfoot.  As populated as the country is, as many people that fly, walk, drive, ride horses, or otherwise travel the country, you think that we would have found definite, undeniable proof that these creatures exist.  I personally find it highly unlikely that a large enough population needed to continue a species would remain undiscovered.  I will admit that it would be really cool if they did, but I doubt it.  There is a slight chance that they do, but the odds are better for navigating an asteroid field with Imperial TIE fighters right behind you.  I have spent a lot of my life tracking animals in the woods and rural areas around here, and we do have stories of bigfoot in Oklahoma,.  I have seen cougars, wolves, bobcats, coyotes, deer, elk, bears, and even a monkey one time.  I have been to sites that bigfoot has been spotted, looked at the "tracks", spoor, and claw marks.  I have yet to find any proof that to me would say Bigfoot was here!  The tracks a lot of the time are where a rock has been turned over by a cow or a deer, or even a fisherman or even a natural depresson in the ground, the spoor a lot of times comes from coyotes or feral dogs, and the claw marks end up being deer rubs or bears clawing at the trees.  And something about the show bigfoot hunters that really gets me, other than the head of a non-profit with the last name of "Moneymaker" is how in the hell do they "know" the habits, behaviors, and even sexual preferences of bigfoot(feets?)  Someone clear this up for me.  It has been bugging the hell out of me for a long time)  There is no empirical evidence, no studies on living animals, not even a really bad documentary on animal planet.  How can they say that bigfoot are omnivores, herbivores, or carnivores?  How can they say that they build shelters, hunt, cross roads, or eat jerky? 

The other story I wanted to talk about briefly is about "mutant" mosquitos.  The article is titled
"Mutant mosquito' plan slammed" .  Basically, it is an attempt to control mosquito populations in Florida by releasing a genetically modified male mosquito that is designed to die early.  People are upset because they are claiming, and rightfully so, that they don't want to be a lab rat in a companies experiment.  The mosquitos had already been through clinical trials, and were found to be safe for release.  As of this writing, I have not found any more info on the plan, so if anyone out there in internetland has any, I would appreciate knowing what came of this.  I know this article is a bit old, and it has been sitting in my to write about list, but this is the first chance I've had to write on it, let alone the bit of research I was able to do. 

Like I said, thanks to anyone that kept checking the blog, and I hope the long wait didn't cause too many of you out there to lose hope.  Like I said, hopefully, I hope to get back on a more regular schedule on these.  Until next time, be good, be safe, a keep an open mind.

The Skeptical Okie