Now I need to toil ’cause it’s good for my soul

We cannot predict how research will benefit humanity, because those benefits might be years, or even decades down the road. Or they might not materialize at all.”

It’™s not my cudgel, it’™s theirs.”

“These are the same people who will rush to ‘€œdefend’€ the Bible –€“ that is, the Bible they do not read and whose contents as they imagine them to be are largely a figment of their imagination — against those of us who’ve dedicated our lives to studying those texts, when we try in vain to share some of the fruits of our research and our passion with them.”

“The Bible is many things, written by many authors, with many ideas — some horrid, some profound.”

“I think there is a need for more progressives to respond to Robert Gagnon if for no other reason than to be Las Casas to his Sepulveda.”

“Governments that elevate money and firearms over human life, that treat its people and their will with such indifference — such governments eventually lose not only honor, but credibility.”

“I am the senator. You are the citizen. You need to be quiet.”

“Guerra and Fierro cleverly took advantage of an 1848 treaty that allows free navigation for both sides along the Rio Grande.”

“After a four month investigation, the authorities have concluded that, even if you see what they determine to be ‘the nicest buck [they’ve] seen taken in Indiana County in a couple of years,’ it is not appropriate or lawful behavior to leap from your car and chase it around the side of the [Walmart] while firing multiple shots from your handgun.”

Westeros Morning Playbook is sponsored by the Night’•s Watch.”

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  • Glad to see you’re working again, Fred, even if that might mean a slowdown on updates.

  • Carstonio

    My proposed solution to the corruption that David Simon describes? Public financing of campaigns, with private donations capped at something like $25 per person or corporation. Candidates would have to put up a deposit to qualify for funding, and this would be forfeited if they don’t receive a certain percentage of the vote. If that won’t fly, my alternative would be requiring broadcast and cable channels to donate, say, 30 minutes of air time for each candidate to be used as ad spots or infomercials.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Candidates would have to put up a deposit to qualify for funding, and this would be forfeited if they don’t receive a certain percentage of the vote.

    Fuck that. That discourages people who don’t already have money of their own from running for office. We do not need any more of that.

    I like public financing, and I like capping private donations, but fuck the ‘put up a deposit’ bit. Also the ‘corporations can donate’ bit. Individual natural persons should be able to donate, but corporations and other business entities should be strictly forbidden.

  • Carstonio

    Corporations being able to donate a mere $25, the same as an individual, is my snarky answer to Citizens United. They want to treat corporations as people? All right, but these have to be under the same restrictions as individuals.

    And I would keep the deposit low, probably $500, and the money would be under the same rules as the campaign contributions. At a minimum, the candidate would have to convince 20 people to donate $25 each. The candidate couldn’t pay for the deposit out of his or her own money or from a single donation.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Okay, that makes more sense, on both points. I still don’t like letting businesses donate, but I could deal with it under your rules.

  • hidden_urchin

    ” I am the senator. You are the citizen. You need to be quiet.”

    Senator? Those citizens voted your ass into office and they can vote it right back out again. *snorts* Talk about entitlement.

  • JustoneK

    We can? I thought it was all about who paid for their campaigns these days.


  • YAAAAY! *waves flag for Fred working again :) *

    “We cannot predict how research will benefit humanity, because those benefits might be years, or even decades down the road. Or they might not materialize at all.”

    This much is definitely true. (PS. This link is maybe sort of NSFW, since it talks about duck sex and we all know how duck sex can go)

    The problem with asking what is practical about things that are so embryonic we can’t possibly outline where we could go with them, is that it can potentially be self-limiting on scientific and social advancement.

    I’d like to talk in detail about this slightly less controversial example than the, er, couplings of ducks.

    You can’t fund the invention of an MRI machine, instead you fund basic
    research in the physics of magnetic resonance on living tissues.

    Pretty much word.

    In the 1930s and 1940s it was found, in the course of studying that thing called quantum mechanics, that you could apply a magnetic field not just to electrons, but to nuclei as well, and if you then sent a radiofrequency pulse of the right wavelength, you could, in effect, cause oscillations of the nuclei. That said this would have been of limited useful interest, but….

    What really made this practical were two things:

    1. That if you extend the quantum mechanical analysis to the interaction between nuclei undergoing this “magnetic resonance” and electrons surrounding the nuclei, the electron density differences around different nuclei cause localized differences in the magnetic field imposed by the huge NMR magnet. (“chemical shifts”)

    2. Furthermore, quantum mechanical analysis of the NMR process shows that nuclei close to each other also experience localized magnetic field differences depending, loosely speaking, on their relative orientations to one another. (“nuclear spin-spin interaction”)

    Now, you could rightly argue that all this was still hornswoggling, but chemists have found that NMR Is a very good probe of molecular structure, which is of immediate practical interest to drug companies, among others.

    In addition, since humans are made up of hydrogen (in part) you can stick a human in a machine and essentially map out the hydrogen density, which gives clues as to how the human body is doing, biochemically, :)

    But it took letting people just roam free in this new world of quantum mechanics to stumble across a phenomenon we now routinely use in today’s society.

    It may take a similar 50-year process of evolution for, say, the study of dark matter to bear fruit. But one day it may be just as routine to use dark matter for something in the 2100s as it is for us to use an MRI in the 2000s.

  • Katie

    Congrats on the new job! I hope that it goes well for you!

  • SisterCoyote

    Ah, cool! Glad to hear you’ve found something, Fred!

  • I respond to Robert Gagnon if for no other reason than it’s fun sparing with him and I sharpen my arguments a bit more.

  • P J Evans

    ‘Basic research is what I am doing when I don’t know what I am doing.’ Wernher von Braun

  • aunursa


  • EllieMurasaki

    Money is not speech.

  • Lori

    As a practical matter there has to be some threshold for public financing. It doesn’t have to be financial, but there has to be a way to keep, for lack of a better term, un-serious candidates from being eligiable or folks are never going to go for it. It’s a tough enough sell as it is. If you tell people that anyone can get public financing simply for declaring themselves a candidate, it’ll never pass.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Understood. Agreed. But the threshold CANNOT be monetary. Say if the candidate is for a party that has 1% of the registered voters in the jurisdiction in which the candidate is running (whether that be the town she wants to be mayor of, the district she wants to represent to the state or federal legislature, or the country she wants to be president of).

  • flat

    I read you got a new job, what is it exactly?

    But I am very happy for you.

  • MaryKaye

    When I was an undergraduate I worked in a lab studying the way in which yeast cells control their cell cycle and prevent themselves from dividing if DNA replication and segregation are not complete or did not go well. My grandmother was perplexed, wondering why on earth we wanted to know about yeast–why didn’t we work on human disease?

    It turns out that the same genes used to checkpoint yeast cell division are used to checkpoint human cell division, and that disruption of these genes can lead to cancer. Lee Hartwell won the Nobel Prize for his work on this. (Nothing to do with my own contributions–I spent 9 months on an experiment that didn’t work, and in fact has never worked from that day to this. I am not cut out to be a laboratory scientist.)

    Did he know? He says, now, that he had a strong idea that the mechanism might be conserved and would be easier to study in yeast than in humans. But I think there was also a burning desire to know how yeast works. Scientists tend to be like that.

    My grandmother passed away some years ago. She would be pleased, I think, to know I am now working directly in cancer research. But I worry that the field will be hamstrung by the requirement to show immediate medical relevance for everything we propose to do. (We are writing a grant right now so this is very much on my mind.) Sometimes you just need to understand how a cell works, and only then can you see which parts are relevant to disease. If you start out demanding relevance you may get nowhere. I believe a lot of the field is spinning its wheels in exactly this situation–they don’t know enough to get practical results, and can’t do the basic science to overcome this because it won’t be funded.

  • Lori

    Again, speaking strictly as a practical matter I don’t think we’re ever going to get a majority of people tp agree to a thresehold that low. There’s a substantial minority in this country that doesn’t think people have a right to food if tax payer dollars are involved. I don’t think they’re going to agree to spend tax money on the campaign of someone who represents a party that got 1% of the vote. I idon’t know, (although I magine someone must have done some research on this) but my guess is the cut off would have to be more like 10% and quite possibly higher.

    It’s one of those tricky circular things. We don’t have much regard for small parties, so people aren’t going to agree to do what they perceive as throwing money away on them, but part of the reason we don’t respect small parties is that they don’t have enough money to get their ideas a wide enough hearing. I’m not sure what the solution to that it. I sometimes think it’s figuring out a way to linit how much money is spent, but I don’t see any practical way to do that.

  • Carstonio

    Dumb question – where does Fred state that he has a new job?

    Also, after reading about behavior of male mallards, waterfowl hunting seems almost like capital punishment. When my kids were little, we went to a park and I saw one female duck and several males. I opened my mouth to call out to my kids to look, before realizing what the feathered monsters were doing to the female. Yeah, I know ducks probably don’t have a moral sense. Still, imagine if female ducks evolved the ability to kill or sterilize males that attempted non-consensual mating – selection would quickly favor only the consensual.

  • Worthless Beast

    Clicking on some of the links:
    Do you ever have links to anyone who questions the “absolute” moral authority of the Bible who *isn’t* an atheist? That’s what I’m wondering…. I mean, do you have any theists, particularly anyone who’s “still Christian” who looks at the Bible critically and rejects some of its laws on slavery, women and whatnot, and yet can still believe in a few parts pointing to something genuinely transcendent?
    It’s curiosity… it’s also why I read Progressive Christian blogs. I’m looking for this. I know there’s tons of Values Dissonance in a supposedly “holy” book that we in the West are taught to seek God in, yet, the prospect of rejecting the notion of something “other” and potentially greater than “just humanity” really depresses me. (I also feel like if my brain actually manged to get go of all vestiges of belief and possibility, it would be too late for me to be “smart.” I’m already in my 30s). It’s too late for me, and I want something other than a world in which we just struggle and die and to praphrase this blog “where we are always stuck in Saturday.” I want someone to be there, and there to be more to life than this… and I feel weak because I want that.
    So, are there any smart people, scholars, people far more educated and intelligent than I am who ask the same questions I do, but who don’t all come to the “rejection of it all” conclusion? Does Fred ever post them? (He may have, and I may have forgotten).
    Feel free to throw your stones now… I’m “worthless” for a reason.

  • If you look at the Slacktivist front page, he says he has a night job.

    I don’t see it in the article itself. Confusing.

  • Well, he doesn’t provide details, so it is, admittedly, a bit of an assumption, but he did say that he has another night job. It’s the specificity of that – given that it’s comparable, in that respect at least, to his former job – that led me to believe that it’s not just some kind of non-paying volunteer thing. After all, the last night job was a paying gig, and he calls this another one.
    If I’m wrong, I will apologize for reading too much into his statement and hope that eventually something does turn up (or the whole book thing pays off).
    ETA: Ah, I see; you just didn’t catch the reference on the first page.

  • Carstonio

    Thanks. Congratulations to Fred. Usually I focus on Recent Comments, except with the Disqus update the links no longer automatically scroll to the comment being linked.

  • flat

    I mentioned it before and I will repeat it one more time: you are not worthless enough for me not to respond.

    And I don’t believe neither does God.

    Ps I also ask myself that question.

  • JustoneK

    I question those parts all the time.

    I don’t reject all of it yet because I haven’t found reason too. And if you are worthless, so am I. If you are beyond learning, so am I. If you are beyond use in human society, so am I.

    I will not cast stones when I know what they feel like.

  • It’s too late for what? Keep questioning; keep looking. You’ll no doubt change your mind on some things. Exactly what those things are is rather difficult to predict at the early stages of the process.

    Fred himself discusses moral difficulties in the Bible from time to time (see, for example, his posts on Peter’s vision). He also links to the “Church Signs Epic Fails” posts of Christian Piatt. Some of Christian’s other posts are similar in tone to some of Fred’s. Also, see Fred’s posts on feminism in the church, in which he frequently links to female Christian bloggers talking about feminism, notably Rachel Held Evans.


  • SisterCoyote

    IIRC, female mallards actually do have a deterrent, but it’s internal. I wish I remembered where I’d read it – something about a researcher who discovered something mind-boggling about alligator penises, and compared it to ducks’… (Okay, I can’t find the article, but searching Bad Astronomy for it gave me this, which is awesome in a different way.)

    Bah, this took far longer than I thought it would. Anyway: Duck sex. It’s weird.

  • SisterCoyote

    Aside from this blog, I think Reverend Ref is another such Christian. Also – the Bonfire and the Mosaic and the Blogroll are probably good for those, though I couldn’t give a complete list of which, exactly, off the top of my head.

    Letting go of the “all or nothing” state is tough to do – I’m glad I found this blog, because the supposed cognitive dissonance that seems to be troubling you – it’s not easy. But I do think it is possible to believe in God, or even to just believe in something Greater than humanity, while understanding that the Bible is a long compilation of books written by many authors, from human and flawed perspectives.

  • Worthless Beast

    I am not a cheese product. And it’s not exactly “early stages” if I’ve been questioning the meaning of life all my life.
    If you are saying “it all leads to one conclusion” – I’m going to feel like running to the nearest church.
    What I’m really looking for are the in-betweeners… people who aren’t either black or white. I’ve *never* fit neatly into a category on *anything* in my life, so I don’t expect for any “process” of mine to lead to a foregone conclusion.

  • JustoneK

    I don’t know, I consider myself part of a process, it’s just that there is no final product (aside from death, maybe). Stages do not necessarily point to an ultimate goal.

    And anyone who thinks they fit neatly into categories are usually fooling themselves.

  • AnonaMiss

    Denominations which reject the idea that the Bible is an “absolute moral authority” include Catholics, Orthodox, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans of the non-Fundamentalist synods, Episcopalians, Quakers, Northern Baptists, and of course nearly every denomination in Europe…

    If you’re categorizing “black” as fundamentalist RTC, and “white” as “atheist” (which of course leaves out the entire huge spectrum of religions that aren’t Christianity, so perhaps “white” is “non-Christian”) – the grey absolutely dwarfs the black. There is so much more variety in life than the fundamentalists want you to see.

    You may have been questioning all your life – but if your questioning hasn’t led you to discover that non-fundamentalist Christians even exist yet, you’re still in early days, Beast. (never Worthless.)

  • Worthless Beast

    I’ve known non-Fundies have existed for a long time. I haven’t been to church at all in years and have had friends of many stripes. I’ve even been here for a while. (And for a while on my more usual Internet handle until I said something stupid, got trounced by the community and felt I couldn’t come back on my sullied name). – My current is, in part, an odd videogame reference. But… I’ve been here for a while.
    I know a couple of the links I looked at were reactionary to people being annoying literalists, but I’m wondering if there are ever links to posts here that are by *people who actually still believe stuff* reacting.
    I’ve been mulling over the one using slavery as an example of poor Biblical morals… I’m thinking that even a booming James Earl Jones voice from Heaven decreeing that humans shall not own humans would have done a damn thing in regards to human religious history. I remember seeing an interview with a Klansman on TV shortly before the last Presidential election in which the Klansman causally spoke of how he and his people only saw Whites as truly human or “Biblically human,” I think is the way he put it and saw other races as “animals.” Methinks ancient people would have just been creative with any “moral absolute” handed down.

  • Katie

    One of the things that Arizona actually does pretty well is public funding for elections. In order to qualify for the public funding, a candidate has to collect X amount of money (how much varies by office) in $5 donations. It may not be perfect, but its a fairly workable system. The only thing I dislike about it is that it isn’t mandatory.

  • Carstonio

    Yes indeed. I’ve read about that myself. The female defenses seem to passive and evasive, aimed simply at foiling fertilization. How about dentata, or an avian version of a skunk’s scent glands?

  • stardreamer42

    I am quite sure that if you asked the neighbors of the guy who went chasing a deer with a handgun in the Wal-Mart parking lot, they would all tell you that he’s a responsible, law-abiding gun owner who would never go on a shooting spree.

  • Lori

    That sounds reasonable, especially if it was manatory so folks whose only support comes from deep pocket donors couldn’t skirt it so easily.

  • SisterCoyote

    I would be a fan of that for pretty much any species.

  • He is? Did I miss something? *is clueless*

  • The preview for this post from the main page says: “Somehow I’ve ended up with another night job, so I’ll be asleep when you read these Monday morning links..”

  • sh

    I had never seen Lark News before. After reading a couple of articles, I had to check it out to confirm my thought that “this HAS to be satire.” That’s really good satire – on a par with the Onion. Thanks for the introduction.
    And yay for the couple getting married on the Rio Grande river. I admire ingenuity, especially if I agree with the cause to which it’s applied.

  • LL

    “I am the senator. You are the citizen. You need to be quiet.”

    Well, I guess we can be grateful that one of them is candid enough to say it publicly. I doubt he’s the only one who feels this way. That is a quote tailor-made for a political ad.

    Disgusting. If he doesn’t lose his job in the next election (whenever that is), well, I guess the citizens of his district will deserve him.

  • LL

    I know some people have a problem with night shift, but I liked it. If you needed to do stuff during the day (when most businesses are open, including govt. offices) you could do it without taking off work. It was pretty awesome. I can see how it would be less than ideal for married people, though.

  • Deleted why?

  • Bethany

    My thoughts about the Bible were pretty heavily influenced by reading Marcus Borg’s book, Reading the Bible Again For the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously but Not Literally.

    In a nutshell I’d say his thesis is that the Bible — as with all other religious texts — was written by a particular culture and in some cases (especially in the New Testament) by particular people in response to their experiences of God.

    So he argues it’s not the case that parts of the Bible are from God and true for all time, and other parts are by humans and fallible. Rather all the the Bible is by humans, recording their thoughts about, and their experiences with, God.

    Now, I’ve never had a “primary religious experience” myself, but I get the impression that when people experience God (or at least, believe themselves to have experienced God) that it’s not like God give them a PowerPoint presentation with neat bullet-point lists of God’s agenda. Rather, the person having the experience has to interpret it, and naturally they’re going to interpret it in the context of the culture in which they live.

    So the idea is that the Bible (and religious texts more generally) deserve to be taking seriously because it represents wisdom accumulated over hundreds or thousands of years about the nature of God. However, it shouldn’t be taken literally because all of it represents responses to God written in particular cultural contexts, so we need to think for ourselves how we think that information about the character of God should be applied.

    (It’s also worth noting that I gather it’s not clear whether many of the oldest parts of the Old Testament were ever intended to be taken literally… that the creation stories in Genesis, for example, may well have been meant at the time to be legends and not a literal account of the creation of the world.)

    You might find it an interesting book — it sounds like the sort of thing you might be looking for, about why the Bible should be taken seriously despite the contradictions, written by a liberal Christian.

  • I’d be okay with anyone, including corporations, being able to donate as much as they like, but it’s a felony to disclose who or how much you donated to.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Um. What?

    Why should we be unable to know that, for example, Walmart donated a fuckton to politicians who will then vote how Walmart likes? (There is a fucking REASON for my magnet that says politicians should dress like racecar drivers so we know who their corporate sponsors are.)

    Or are you suggesting that the politicians shouldn’t know where the fuckton of money came from either?

  • Lori

    I think he means you could donate, but you couldn’t tell the person you donated to them. I think I see what Ross is going for, but I don’t think it would work. Even if no one tells you where your donations are coming from it’s not going to take long for patterns to immerge and relationships between votes and donations to become obvious.

  • ReverendRef

    Aside from this blog, I think Reverend Ref is another such Christian.

    Hey …. thanks for the props. I appreciate that. Although, I will admit that my blog posts are not nearly as informative as our esteemed host here, and any “deep” stuff is usually reserved for my Sunday sermon.

    But I do think it is possible to believe in God, or even to just believe
    in something Greater than humanity, while understanding that the Bible
    is a long compilation of books written by many authors, from human and
    flawed perspectives.

    I was just talking with a good friend of mine about this very topic. In our opinion, the Bible is not a place you look to for fact; it’s a place you look to for truth. I’ve talked about that before, but the gist of it is that you need to engage your whole being when reading the Bible for truth, as opposed to simply reading the words in an attempt to garner facts.

    Would say more, but I’ve got some actual work to attend to.

  • Dogfacedboy

    Congratulations, Fred, on the new job. Which reminds me…

    I’m making a little contribution to your tip jar. I think you said not long ago you were going to be more proactive about reminding us that the jar is there and that we’re all welcome to utilize it from time to time. But you strike me as the sort of guy who’s probably reluctant to do that, so let me use this bit of space to remind all the loving slacktivites in this slacktiverse that the jar is there–if you’re so inclined and can afford to put in a little something, I’m sure Fred and Slacktivixen will appreciate it. And it might help save him from having to put in too much overtime during those night shifts.

    Thank you, Fred, for this blog and this wonderful community you’ve inspired.