7 Quick Takes (12/9/11)

7 Quick Takes (12/9/11) December 9, 2011

— 1 —

This has been a very transhumanist week.  First there was a question about whether we should want to be uploaded to computers and then a discussion of how conversion (and/or brainmodding) is a process of being born again, but the first step is dying.

I’ve got one more transhumanist/identity post in the hopper for the weekend, but, in the mean time, you may want to head to the National Catholic Register to see some more discussion of the Douthat thought experiment that troubled me.  Stephen Greydanus and Jennifer Fulwiler both share thoughts.  Has anyone seen this get much play on other atheist blogs?

— 2 —

It’s been a while since I did a Quick Takes, so I’ve accumulated a backlog of fun links.  I thought about easing you in, but I can’t hold back the splendor of Biostatistics!Ryan Gosling

There’s a whole tumblr of geekery and soulful looks.  May you have joy of it.

(P.S. in statistical vocabulary, bias is a measure of how close my predictions are, on average, to the correct value; variance describes how similar my predictions are to each other)

The image on the left has low variance (the darts are clustered closely together) but higher bias than the one on the right (where the darts are, on average, closer to the center).  Well, the first one has higher bias and would be harder to fix if you’re aiming your darts onto an x-y plane, not if you’re optimizing over polar coordinates

— 3 —

Huzzah!  You just learned a lot.  Now kick back with this compilation of contest entries for a one second film competition.


— 4 —

Oh, and yes, I’ve seen the new Rick Perry ad.  Everyone on the internet has pretty much said all the things I think (I’m glad DADT was repealed; students are free to pray in school, it’s just that teachers can’t promote prayer; and it’s hard to commend Perry for his bravery in publicly declaring himself a Christian when it’s my team that has over 50% of our fellow citizens declaring they couldn’t in good conscience vote for an atheist).

But I just want to take a second and quote the facebook status of a friend:

The reason kids don’t celebrate Christmas in school, Rick? That would be because THE SCHOOL CALENDAR IS DESIGNED AROUND CHRISTIAN HOLIDAYS.

— 5 —

A college friend of mine did an excellent job explaining that trying to use the state or other non-religious institutions to promote a holy day is likely to be bad for your sect as well as the rest of society.  Yishai wrote:

There is only one reason that Hannukah has been given the place of prominence it currently occupies in the American public and at Yale: Christmas. As American Christians try to navigate their way through the Scylla of free expression and the Charybdis of the establishment clause — as they struggle to balance a desire to practice a particular faith with the need to maintain the appearance of universality — they find that glorifying Hannukah is a useful tool. “Of course, this isn’t a Christian space — see, there is something Jewish too!”

As a Jew, then, there is something deeply disturbing about knowing that Hannukah is being privileged over other, far more significant holidays in the service of Christianity. Now, the entirely public conception of Hannukah is determined by the needs of American Christians. This incongruity is only heightened when we remember that Hannukah was established to celebrate the survival of Judaism in the face of Hellenistic assimilation.

— 6 —

Another palate clenser: a brinicle — a super cold current of water in the deep ocean that freezes and kills anything unlucky enough to be found in its path.

— 7 —

Finally, I love Law and the Multiverse (law geeks explaining the relevance of modern law to comic-book scenarios) but never more so than when it tackles questions like this:

“Did Uncle Fester commit a crime? He was a conman pretending to be Fester, but unbeknownst to him [because of amnesia suffered in the Bermuda Triangle], he actually was Fester.”

N.Y. Penal Law § 190.25. Since Fester (who believed himself to be a man named Gordon) thought he was impersonating someone with the intent to gain access to the Addams Family’s wealth, this seems to fit. The question is whether Fester’s real identity is a defense despite his belief that he was committing a crime. We think the answer is that he may not be guilty of impersonation but he is likely guilty of attempted impersonation.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Gilbert

    On point 5 the funny thing is Christmas isn’t the most important Christian holiday either. OK, it’s the number two, which makes it still a lot more important than Hanukkah. But still Christianity-wise the big party should be at Easter.

    I note your friend also gets the real and secular reason for celebrating:

    It is also no accident that so many religions celebrate holidays at this time of year. The days are being consumed by night, and the weather is getting colder; there is a deep human need to light fires in the darkness and find joy in the gloom. Injecting some holiday cheer into the stress of finals and the seasonally-induced depression is both psychologically sound and historically authentic. We certainly shouldn’t deprive ourselves of the celebrations and displays that add meaning and light when we need them most.

    He’s actually understating, there is a reason the trains always run late at this time of the year and it’s not the snow.

    Any decent belief system should provide a pretense a sappy feast with candles at that time of the year. The only reason Islam doesn’t is that their calender makes it impossible to attach feasts to solar seasons. Secularism has no excuse, you’d better come up with a light of reason celebration or something like that. Or you could steal our trick and simply fix Darwin’s birthday to the winter solstice.

    • leahlibresco

      Are you unfamiliar with Secular Jewish Christmas? Every year my family goes to see a movie and orders in Chinese food on Christmas. My DC housemates are all going home to our families on Christmas Day, but we’re considering celebrating Secular Orthodox Jewish Christmas when we get back using one of the alternate liturgical calendars.

  • Yeah, I’ve always gone back and forth between which is most important, Christmas or Easter. Maybe it’s a chicken-egg thing? I’ve pretty much given up trying to think of “the holiday season” as being all-inclusive. It’s about Christmas, both secular Santa-style and baby Jesus-style. The Hanukkah-elevation is just patronizing.

    I’ve always called it precision and accuracy, rather than bias and variance. Does math use different vocab than biology?

    • leahlibresco

      I tend to hear bias and variance more in math classes, but it is the same concept. In my experience people tend to use precision and accuracy to talk more generally and bias and variance when they’re being more specific quantitatively about how much bias or variance exists.

  • Concerned Citizen

    If life begins at conception, surely the feast of the Annunciation should be more important than Christmas..

    • Faith Roberts

      Just a little response to Concerned Citizen’s remark. Not all religious events get the big commercial holiday, it’s true, but that doesn’t mean the event is not considered important. I don’t know if you are familiar with the Angelus. Back when Europe was Catholic, bells were rung 3x a day, at 6 a.m., 12 noon and 6 p.m. People stopped wherever they were to pray the Angelus which is a recounting of the story of the Annunciation. In many traditional, orthodox Catholic homes they still often try to pray the Angelus at least at one of these points of time every day. So the Annunciation was so important people stop and pray about it in a daily way. And in fact, whenever we pray the creed in Mass we bow at the point in the prayer where we talk about how “he (Jesus) came down from heaven and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary.”

      So, yep, you’re right. More important than Christmas!