Archive | March, 2013

I Never Asked Jesus to Die (And Neither Did You)

Years ago, in my ironically state-run science high school, the Optional Religious Instruction program held a screening of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. As I sat through a torture porn-level scene of Jesus getting the bejesus kicked out of him, I noticed people sobbing around me. At first, it sounded like the deep inhaling from a hearty laugh, until I turned around to look. I saw students weeping profusely into handkerchiefs while a man was being beaten to a pulp onscreen. The reason was clear to me even then—these kids believed they were responsible for the man being executed.

The doctrine of Original Sin, Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God at the Garden of Eden, culminates on Easter, at Jesus’ resurrection. According to Christian belief, we inherited this sin from the first people, and because of that, we are condemned to die. In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul wrote, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Jesus’ resurrection was meant to be victory over death, and that meant cleansing mankind of sins, including the Original one.

I never asked for this.

 

Vicarious atonement

As written in Isaiah, interpreted as fulfilled by Jesus, “But he was wounded for our transgressions… with his stripes we are healed.” The Judeo-Christian faith believes in vicarious atonement. That is to say, it is possible to make up for one’s sins by having something else pay for them. This is the root of “scapegoating,” when the Jews cast out a goat on the Day of Atonement, to die in the desert. This goat would carry their sins and its removal from the tribe showed God’s forgiveness. Jesus’ death and resurrection is this ritual taken to the extreme—God Himself as the sacrificial lamb (another related idiom) for the forgiveness of sins.

But it is not enough for Jesus to simply die. He must overcome death and resurrect. The resurrection is key to the Christian mythology. As Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians, “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.”

 

Vicarious guilt

This is the Christian faith: that Jesus died for our sins that we may have eternal life, if we believe. This is why my fellow students were crying in that auditorium. They felt the crushing guilt of having a man’s death on their conscience. Perhaps the guilt was never that real to me, but I completely understand that what they did was the most appropriate thing to do—if they truly believed that God Himself was tortured and crucified for their sake. In their eyes, we put Jesus on the cross. We were to blame for the horrific scene we were witnessing in bloody detail. Our sins killed Jesus.

Then again, I never asked Jesus to die, and neither did they. It is asserted by Christians that we owe God our lives because he saved us from the fires of hell. But the entire metaphysics of sin leading to death and the inheritance of sin itself—this is all God’s handiwork. When the first couple supposedly sinned 10,000 years ago, sometime after the invention of glue, none of us were there. And yet, it has been ordained that every child born would have the stain of their sin—a stain that can only be cleansed in Christian baptism.

A baby that dies before baptism is sent to limbo. Since they have no sins apart from the Original, but did not receive salvation, innocent babies are sent to this no-man’s land outside of Heaven, Hell, and Earth. (Incidentally, limbo as a doctrine is not an official Catholic teaching. It remains a “theological hypothesis,” one of the most bizarre contradictions in terms ever produced by the human mind.) The bottom line is, if you are not saved by Jesus in his religion, whatever the case may be (even for geographically isolated tribes and mentally challenged humans), you are going to suffer somehow. There are some theological gymnastics used to wriggle out of the despicable belief of hell for all non-Christians, of course. Nevertheless, the only surefire way to avoid hell still is and always will be toeing the mainstream Christian line. As Jesus said, in the Gospel according to John, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

 

Holy blackmail

It is this strange and extreme case of emotional blackmail, where God will condemn you if you do not love him, that is at the core of the Easter celebration and, consequently, at the core of every mainstream Christian faith. And the blackmail’s not even for something we did!

I never asked Jesus to die, and neither did you. I would never ask a person to die for my own sins. I certainly would never expect someone’s child to pay for their parents’ sins (much less their descendants thousands of years from now). These are basic things we expect from every sane and ethical person. Christianity expects us to believe that God is the exact opposite of a sane and ethical person—and we are supposed to worship Him.

Image credit: Still from The Passion of the Christ

Posted in Religion51 Comments

Why Conservatives Might Still Win Next Election

I rarely read the morning paper, much less buy it. Being almost always connected to the Internet, I still haven’t found any convenience or practicality in doing so, although I do find novelty in folding my way through an oversized broadsheet. But I bought one this morning anyway.

This is the first election that I’ll ever participate in, and I’m definitely not voting for either candidate, I thought.

It will be pointless now, at least in this post, to argue why secularism should be pushed for. Thousands of books and articles have been written about it already, and I expect that there should be at least a dozen such articles in this website alone. What I would like to talk about instead is why there seems to be a common sentiment against secularism among Filipinos, and why statements like Villanueva’s may actually help him win votes.

Filipinos just don’t get it

The fight for secularism is an uphill battle. Everyone seems to have this impression that mixing God with government is harmless, and can actually yield good results. With it, you’ve got morally guided laws and honest leaders to back them up. Yet at the same time, you’ve got a population which recognizes that their leaders are all corrupt. None of these politicians, by the way, profess atheism—at least not publicly.

So what do you do about it? I would like to believe that there is no correlation between religious belief and moral governance. After all, you’ve got the Catholic Church’s millennia-old string of sex scandals and systematic cover-up of offending priests over here, and Nordic countries’ flying colors in government transparency despite the generally atheistic populace over there. I wouldn’t be surprised, however, to find that many people would give the answer, “Put more God in it.”

Yes, there is just not enough God in government; that’s why you need more of it! Of course, there is no statistic behind this. But who needs evidence—right?—when you’ve got faith.

It’s deeply embedded in the psyche

Let me repeat it again: I would like to believe that there is no correlation between religious belief and moral governance. After all, you’ve got the Catholic Church’s millennia-old string of sex scandals and systematic cover-up of offending priests over here, and Nordic countries’ flying colors in government transparency despite the generally atheistic populace over there.

Despite! Despite! Why does it have to be “despite?” Church apologists have successfully penetrated all sectors of Philippine society that they have managed to completely dichotomize God and evil—as if atheists and good governance are logically incongruent. Everything that is good is God, and everything without God is evil. While I may cite as many atheists who have done good things for the world as I would like, you could always claim that they could have done better if only they had faith in God. It’s the perfect trump card, and the secularist always loses the argument.

Not only did the Church manage to dichotomize God and evil, they also managed to unify secularism and atheism into one ugly bunch. It is utterly impossible to advocate secularism without being labeled an atheist, or at least someone who is having doubts with God. Whereas parading a nation-under-God slogan should be a sure ticket to Congress,[1] clamoring for secularism should be a fail-safe way to kill your political career—unless you’re Miriam Defensor-Santiago, whom a lot of Filipinos think is borderline insane anyway.[2]

Pinoy pride and the fear of Western decadence

How many times have we heard the anti-RH camp claim that secularism, contraception, divorce, and marriage equality are essentially an invasion of dangerous Western ideas? That with these in place, Filipinos would lose their identity? It is unavoidable for people to think that secularism—that is government without God—will make society brim with the “culture of death;” just as how contraception will make Filipinos extinct; divorce makes all couples separate; and marriage equality makes all people gay-marry.

It’s funny how the United States is always considered by local politicians and religious apologists as the paragon of secular immorality, considering how it is actually a lot more conservative than its Western peers. It’s even funnier to think how, on the other hand, religious fundamentalists in the US would argue that conservatism is a uniquely American virtue. After all, you can cry out Western imperialism all you want when it comes to reproductive health and other “foreign” ideas, especially when you’ve got a Catholic Church imported straight from the same source.

Again, the Church has outdone itself. This time, it has successfully managed to unify “the Filipino,” God and everything good into a single idea. Everything that is good is God, and Filipinos believe in God, therefore Filipino conservatism is good. Indeed, patriotism and religion share a lot in common when it comes to political exploitability.

Reason is our only weapon

As much as I would hate to admit it, Filipino society is still conservative to the core, or else majority of senatoriables should no longer be tiptoeing around the topic of marriage equality; the University of the Philippines Los Banos[4] would no longer be giving out copies of the Bible during its freshman orientation; and political candidates would no longer have to use putting God back into the heart of government as a platform.

Many solutions can be proposed to counter this tide. Be it through progressive legislation, like the RH law, divorce bill and antidiscrimination bill; through reform of education curricula, like putting more science in it and making lessons expressly secular; or through parenting, like teaching children rationalism in words they can digest; it really just boils down to one thing—reason.

Reason is an especially powerful tool. It is an instant litmus test for bullshit in itself. Conversely, it is the only way for us to weigh the merits of any argument, legislation or what have you. Through careful examination of evidence and not through acceptance of claims because of religious grounds, can we only progress as a society.

Sadly, we are still far from there, and it will take a lot of time. But least we can use reason as easily as hot knife cuts through butter, especially when these two guys—both promising to carry out the will of God—can’t even agree among themselves.


[1] Thankfully, results are not as consistent. Buhay may have won seats over the previous elections, but we all know how the Ang Kapatiran slate miserably lost despite backing from a number of bishops.
[2] As much as I would like to delve deeper into Filipino anti-intellectualism—well, it’s not the first time you’ve heard people say, “Wag kang masyadong mag-isip at baka mabaliw ka.”—that’s another discussion altogether.
[3] Or at least UPLB officials in charge of the event

Posted in Politics, Religion, Society2 Comments

Lab Letters Issue #9: Squared Circles, Faster Swallows, and the Golden Record

Lab Letters Issue #9: Squared Circles, Faster Swallows, and the Golden Record

Hello darlings! Did you miss me? I sure missed you! Welcome to another issue of Lab Letters, FF’s weekly science micro-post! Enough with the words. I’ll tell you exactly what to do for today:

 

WATCH THIS

Chipper British numberphile James Grime tells the bizarro story of that one time in American history when the value of pi almost became 3.2. It all started when Edward Goodwin wanted to square the circle (note: it’s a real geometry problem).

Is it possible for these two shapes to have the exact same area? And to be drawn using a finite number of moves? (source: wikimedia.org)

Then the weirdness happened:

1. Edward Goodwin claimed to have solved it

2. He raced to the patent office to copyright his proof

3. But magnanimously allowed his home state of Indiana to use it for free

4. He almost got it to be proclaimed as law

5. Lulz in the US Senate

 

Watch the video below:

And that, kids, is why “squaring a circle” is a metaphor for attempting the impossible.

 

READ THIS

Do you have that friend who always acts all smug and says that evolution is a lie, and that animals can’t possibly evolve in an observable way? Have them READ THIS:

It seems that cliff swallows are evolving to have shorter wings, an adaptation that increases agility and take-off speed. It also probably helps them dodge cars speeding along on the highways of Nebraska, USA. This ‘vehicular selection’ (as opposed to, say, natural selection) is yet another case of human activities directly affecting evolution in animals.

 Makes for more efficient coconut transport. Thanks, Evolution! (source: rpsb.co.uk)

 

BROWSE THIS ALBUM

Despite initial reports earlier this week, NASA has set the record straight: the Voyager 1 spacecraft has NOT left the solar system. Not yet, anyway. The Voyager program, consisting of two unmanned probes, were launched in 1977 initially to study Jupiter and Saturn, but have extended their mission to go out into the farthest corners of the Solar System, and eventually, to go beyond that.

Aboard the spacecraft is the Voyager Golden Record, a copper-plated gold phonograph intended to present the variety of life on Earth should intelligent extraterrestrials stumble upon the mission. The record contains spoken greetings from 59 languages, sounds found in nature, a variety of music from different cultures and times, the brainwaves of a woman, and 116 images showing the diversity of life on Earth.

 

The number system

 

DNA structure and replication

 

The inside of a seashell

 

Dancer from Bali

 

Eating and drinking

 

Rush hour in India

 

Antarctic expedition

 

Rocket launch

 

Then-US president Jimmy Carter included a message for whoever would find the record:

 We are attempting to survive our time so that we may live into yours.

The committee that prepared the Golden Record? Chaired by none other than Carl Sagan. The full album can be seen here.

 

That does it for today, I hope you enjoyed this week’s FF LL! See you next week,

Posted in Science0 Comments

Meet A Freethinker: Ria Caringal

No two freethinkers are exactly alike; a group of freethinkers contains a great diversity of perspectives, so there is no one, official perspective shared among all of them. This makes the freethought community a truly vibrant source of ideas and opinions!

In this light, Meet a Freethinker is our series featuring freethinkers of all backgrounds and perspectives. We want to introduce you guys to the people who make up the proverbial melting pot of this growing movement.

Our next freethinker is Ria Caringal. She studied molecular biology and biotechnology at UP Diliman and, with some buddies, got the FF university chapter there up and running in 2010. She is currently in the US helping the military fight diarrhea. In her spare time she runs Lab Letters, FF’s weekly science round-up post, and is also currently making her way through all the Bond films.

1) How would you define a freethinker?

Being a freethinker is being able to evaluate things regardless of who said it or how ‘common knowledge’ it seems to be. So, in a sense, freethinkers are folks for whom “because I said so!” isn’t enough. Especially when the ones saying that are institutions built on dogma, authority, and tradition.

I learned this the hard way. When I was a kid I would beg my dad to buy me Hershey’s chocolate bars. He said chocolates taste awful and made a sour face. And I believed him. Whole-heartedly. A freethinkerly Ria would have demanded evidence and peer review. Never again, dad. Never again.

2) What belief system do you subscribe to?

I’m an atheist. I realized that I disagreed with a lot of the church’s teachings regarding homosexuality, contraception, divorce, sexuality, roles of women etc. and I realized that I can’t keep calling myself Catholic while also simultaneously ignoring official Catholic doctrine. That’s just… disingenuous. So I left.

After that, and after learning about other religions, it became easy to see how religion could have started as a way to explain natural events (earthquakes are caused by the gods oil-wrestling! making Maria Makiling cry results in typhoons!), and then got infused with philosophy on how to live a good life, and then myths and traditional customs piled on top of it, politics and power got involved too, and then everything got WAYYYY out of hand.

As for proofs and miracles, this clip sums it up for me:

From the movie The Messenger: The story of Joan of Arc (1999, dir. Luc Besson). Joan is imprisoned and starts questioning her motives.

No doubt that religion played an important role in the past when it came to uniting communities and preserving social order. I just think that we’ve outgrown that phase; we can be good without the threat of hellfire or the promise of heavenly riches.

3) What was the funniest or most interesting reaction you got from a person after you told him or her that you were a freethinker?

People aren’t generally aware of what a freethinker is (“thinking freely lulz?!”). But when I say I’m an atheist I mostly get “Oh…” and then an awkward pause in conversation. But I once got a high-five from a co-worker and fellow atheist! That was fun.

4) In what way has being part of a freethinking community benefited you?

It is AWESOME. This is a community that I can really say are my people.

Not only do we share the same levels of geekery, we are also angry about the same shit and are actively doing something about it. Blog posts and creative demonstrations are all fun means to get public discourse going, which hopefully leads to a more fair, more vigilant, and generally better society.

The fortnightly meet-ups are great for people who may feel left out due to being irreligious. Discussions are always interesting and fun, and I’ve learned to debate and discuss more effectively from that.

Moreover, the friendships I’ve formed are simply invaluable to me, and honestly it’s great to be a part of something I believe in.

5) Please explain why there seems to be some negative perceptions against molecular biology (i.e. Greenpeace) and how can we counter that?

It’s probably because it’s such a new technology, and people aren’t generally aware of how things work (fish DNA in my tomatoes! insect DNA in my corn!). Combine that with GM companies like Monsanto and their shady business practices, movies portraying scientists as morally ambiguous god-complexed balls of ego, and a belief that ~*~natural is better~*~ and you have the paranoia of our generation (kinda like nuclear energy in the 1950s).

There’s also the ethics issues that arise when dealing with altering /creating/combining DNA, safety concerns over genetically modified food, ownership/patent disputes, and the definition of “life.”

Countering all that hubbub would involve educating people, rigorous tests to assure food safety, and also a shift in public perception of scientists.

7) What’s the difference between working in a Philippine lab, and an American lab?

Funding and scale. Support and infrastructure. There are actually staffing companies here in the US dedicated to head hunting for laboratories. Regulating bodies for animal/human subject safety in clinical trials. We regularly get high school and college interns for the summer. That just blows my mind to see science as a massively thriving industry, involving collaborators from all over the world. The US military doesn’t spend all its money on guns, it also sponsors a lot of basic research (brain injuries, insect bites, malaria, dengue).

Another huge difference is the type of work. Working in an academic lab/doing basic research in the US generally has softer deadlines, flexible timelines, and lots of collaboration within different departments. You’re free to make your own schedule, as long as you get your work done. You discuss your results with your co-workers, then do the experiment again with slightly different conditions. Rinse, repeat, keep going.

Industry is a different beast altogether. Industry means research work that is contracted out to companies specializing in specific assays. That means you’re doing the same tests over and over for different clients, with very strict deadlines. They need to know if this new face cream will give people cancer! It is result-oriented and crazy-regulated. We had a meeting where we were arguing about how to print labels for test tubes. And how to properly write the date (the 31-Mar-2013 format is least ambiguous, I highly recommend it).

8) A lot of scientists somehow manage to doublethink their way into staying religious. Have you had to deal with someone like this in your lab? If so, how did you deal with it?

I know lots of scientists that are also religious. I think, for them, doing science is a way to discover how god works/designed the universe. Or, others prefer to keep their personal beliefs separate from their work. We don’t talk religion in the workplace much anyway. As long as you don’t let it get in the way of how you set up your experiments, we’re cool.

9) Do you think the current academic culture fosters a freethinking attitude?

I would say Meh, Not Really.  Hard work and perseverance are more prized attributes in school. That’s not bad in itself, but it seems to me that we tend to view science as just another subject to pass and just another hoop to jump through to obtain a diploma. Being able to memorize and spout facts grants you the title matalino, but really we should be giving credit to those who are marunong – those who know how to think, not just what to think.

It’s like saying it’s good to be smart, but keep that shit in your classrooms! Try to get a serious discussion going, and you get called pilosopo as an insult.  People laugh about not being able to understand a concept, nakaka-nosebleed! Ka-lurkey. This attitude of anti-intellectualism needs to change.

10) What is your answer to a creationist who says, there are no transitional fossils. Where is the dino-chicken?

Dino-chicken says hi.

Hi!

More info here.

 

Posted in Meet a Freethinker6 Comments

Your Senatoriable’s Not-So-Fabulous Stance on Gay Marriage

With the Papal elections winding down in the Vatican, most pinoys are beginning to focus their attention on our very own parade of horribles: The May 2013 Elections.

The people will be voting for candidates who most closely adhere to their wants and needs, and they’ll be very interested in what the various candidates’ opinion on hot topics such as same-sex marriage.

It goes without saying that as a religiously conservative country, the Philippines has not been supportive of gay marriage, with an overwhelming amount of senatoriables voicing their opposition to the measure.

The question is, does their opposition to gay marriage hold any water? For the benefit of the people still undecided on this matter – and since I’m a mean-spirited blackheart with nothing better to do – I’ll be presenting some of the crazier reasons these people are against gay marriage…and why they’re bullshit.

“It’s against natural law. Ang lalaki, ang mapapangasawa niya ay babae, at sila’y mag-aanak at dadami ang sangkatauhan. ‘Yan ang naturang batas at hindi kailanman nagkaroon sa natural law na pwede ‘yung parehong babae, parehong lalaki… Walang pamilya! Hindi naman ‘yan magkakaanak.” – Lito David

Malayo ‘yan. Tayo’y ginawa ng Diyos na [ang] pag-aasawa [ay] para magkaroon ka ng anak, procreation, para magkaroon ka ng happiness. Kung para sa happiness lang, ‘wag na kayong magpakasal. Kung dalawa kayong lalaki, dalawa kayong babae, gusto n’yong magsama, puwede naman. So bakit kailangang magpakasal pa? – Dick Gordon

Marriage is for propagating family, but it is high time for registered partnerships. – Ricardo Penson

First off, there is nothing in our laws that makes having children a legal requirement for couples to marry. If this were the case, then marriage should be illegal for the sterile and the elderly. Strangely enough, lesbian couples can still skirt this requisite through the magic of science.

This argument was also used during the deliberations to repeal California’s Proposition 8. Prop 8 has since been repealed, with several states in the US beginning to legalize gay marriage, which goes to show you just how effective the argument was.

Furthermore, if David and Gordon are going to argue against gay marriage on the grounds that “It’s not natural,” they’re going to have to explain swans, seagulls, bonobos, dolphins, vultures, pigeons, ducks, sheep, and hyenas. All of the above have exhibited homosexual behavior in the wild.

Taking the naturalistic fallacy further, we shouldn’t be using “unnatural” things, such as modern medicine, cars, smartphones (of which David has taken to backfisting), and computers.

I’d include clothes, but do we really want to regularly see Mr. David’s junk, or Dick’s…well, you get the idea.

“I don’t think that’s a marriage. They can just live together if they want. No need to flaunt it.” – Jun Magsaysay

I think that is a joke of a proposal. I don’t know where that idea came from, but marriage is between a man and a woman so maybe the laws can be liberalized in such a way that the property relations of people of the same sex who decided to live together can be governed by law but let us not call that marriage. Madali naman yan sa partnership, we can let the government code govern that or the laws on partnership, not the family code. – Koko Pimentel

It’s more than just being able to live together and “flaunting it”. Marriage ensures that the partners involved receive the same legal protections as straight couples, such as the on the matter of hospital visitation rights. There’s also the myriad of laws under the family code that protect the right to property of both people entering a marriage, in the event of the death of the spouse.

This isn’t about granting “special” rights to the LGBT community, as Pimentel implies. This is about granting them EQUAL rights, under the same family code that protect all straight marriages in the Philippines. And on a more sentimental note, it is about two men or women who have entered a long-term relationship, being able to proudly say “We’re married!” instead a word salad like “We’re under a recognized civil union!”

Pimentel should brush up on history, so that he’ll understand why his plea for things to be “Separate but equal,” should be ignored, if not outright ridiculed. Just like his stance on reproductive rights.

“Ang paniniwala ko pa rin between man and woman yung marriage.” – Nancy Binay

Sa akin, parang ‘di maganda dahil man and woman ang marriage. – Samson Alcantara

I don’t have anything against gay people… they were probably born that way but this should not be sanctified by marriage. Some of my friends are gay but marriage to me is a sacred institution. – Bal Falcone

We are still a Catholic nation. If we look at the Bible, the marriage of two persons is always man and woman. It’s always been Adam and Eve. Wala namang Adan at Adan. Wala ring Eba at Eba – JV Ejercito Estrada

Marriage is not the exclusive property of the Catholic Church. Furthermore, it’s not as if legalizing same-sex marriage will require RCC churches to marry gay couples; The couples can always get married in churches that support gay marriage.

And really, the “some of my friends are X” defense is a crapshoot argument. Would it be any more sensible if Mr. Falcone said “Some of my friends are black, but I think segregation is a sacred institution”? Is it any surprise that most of the arguments against gays sound similar to the tired rhetoric of the proponents of the Jim Crow laws?

Furthermore, Mr. Estrada, the Philippines is not a “Catholic Nation.” While it is true that most of the people here are Catholic, that doesn’t give them the right to impose their religion on all other non-Catholics; Even constitutionalist Fr. Bernas considered this a very bad idea.

And assuming we limit our definition of marriage to consenting adults, the one-man, one-woman definition can also be disputed. Polygamy is also a widely accepted form of marriage among numerous cultures, such as Islam.

Lastly, it’s a PERSONAL belief – nobody is forcing you to have a gay marriage. However, it also follows that you don’t have a right to impose your personal belief of what marriage is on gays. It’s not your job to force your “paniniwala” on the people – it’s your job to defend their basic rights. And if you don’t understand that, you don’t have any business running for senate.

Totally against that. Equal rights are guaranteed by the United Nations Charter on Human Rights. There is really no need to expand the concept of human rights. I respect the human rights of gays and lesbians, but when you allow same sex marriage, there is no purpose whatsoever as to the objective of that. – JC Delos Reyes

JC failed to mention that as of 2011, the United Nations passed a resolution opposing discrimination or violence against the gay community.

That discrimination doesn’t necessarily have to come in the form of laws that directly oppress the LGBT community. It can be as simple as denying them the right to marry the person they love, and wish to spend the rest of their life with. A right straight people like me can enjoy, and most often take for granted. JC has no business claiming to agree with the UN if he can’t even acknowledge that gays deserve to be protected by the same range of laws that protect everybody else in RP.

On a related note, he certainly has no right to be claiming to be in support for the UN charter on human rights, given his attempts to block every woman’s right to RH medicine and education, which are supported by the UN.

JC also claimed to be anti-imperialist, and against the influence of internationa groups, so what’s he doing agreeing with the UN in the first place? Fucking hypocrite.

“I am for the protection and respect ng political rights ng lahat, regardless of gender. Pero pagdating sa marriage of same sex, sabi ng Good Book, huwag gayahin ‘yung nangyari sa Sodom and Gomorrah dahil darating ang paggunaw sa isang bansa pag ‘yun ay ginawa.” – Eddie Villanueva

We saved the best for last.

The gist of Bro. Eddie’s argument is that he’s for equal rights, unless it goes against the teachings of his good book. The problem is that even a cursory reading of the bible shows that it’s anything but a “good” book. From its endorsement of genocide and slavery to unleashing bears on kids who make fun of baldies, the bible’s text goes anywhere from morally questionable, to the sort of religiously-motivated actions that would make even Kratos take pause and say “Whoa there! Isn’t that getting a bit excessive? ”

As a parting note, I advise all voters reading this to go through their favorite candidate’s stances on various social concerns before voting. It’s your responsibility, and privilege.

Posted in Advocacy, Gender Rights, Humor, Politics, Religion, Society4 Comments

The RH Status Quo, The Way Things Were Before

The Supreme Court of the Philippines voted 10-5 to put a status quo ante order on the RH law, which means that instead of the RH law being implemented the Philippines will return to the magical state it was in before the RH bill was passed.

We already have the law and the implementing rules and regulations. The Supreme Court has ordered the Philippines to regress, to freeze progress for four more months. Four more months that the CBCP and its allies can use to maneuver their political power to kill the RH law in the Supreme Court.

Which basically means more Filipinas would needlessly die from preventable maternal complications. Because this is the status quo.

Which means that the Philippines will continue to have one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancies in Asia. Because this is our status quo.

Which means we’ll continue to not have a comprehensive program to address the rising rates of HIV infection in the country. For that is the status quo.

Status quo ante. It means “the way things were before”. We already have the RH law. Why should we want to go back to the status quo? Sign this petition to ask the Supreme Court to lift their order.

Posted in RH Bill0 Comments

Lab Letters Issue #8: Life on Mars, the Higgs, and a Frog Brought Back from the Dead

Lab Letters Issue #8: Life on Mars, the Higgs, and a Frog Brought Back from the Dead

How’s it going, friends? Welcome to another issue of Lab Letters, FF’s weekly science micro-post!

 

NASA’s Curiosity rover exploring Mars, artist rendering.

(source: Maas Digital LLC/National Geographic Channels)

 Life on Mars?

NASA’s Curiosity rover isn’t just a space truck with a camera, it is literally a laboratory on wheels. It has lasers, a bunch of spectrometers, telescopes, sensors for every environmental condition, a navigation system, a robotic arm, and even a gentle brush for removing Mars dust. It has been rolling around the surface of the red planet, drilling into rocks and analyzing samples. Its latest findings suggest the presence of certain minerals (sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and carbon) in a rock found at Yellowknife Bay, which also exhibits signs of once being wet, possibly once a lake or a river that dried up a long time ago. This, coupled with neutral, non-harsh conditions (not too salty, not too acidic), would have made that environment habitable to life.

Here’s a scientist from NASA’s Jet Propulsion lab discussing the recent findings and comparing them to rock samples from a different area of Mars

 

More pictures and the official press release here.

 

Above: Protons are smashed together in the Large Hadron Collider to produce a bunch of particles. A Higgs boson would quickly decay into specific ones, which can then be detected. The yellow lines represent particle tracks after impact. CERN’s July 2012 announcement about the discovery of a Higgs boson-like particle had everyone buzzed – is this it? Have we finally found the particle that gives mass to matter? Have we solved physics? Does quantum theory make sense now? Have we found the reason for the universe? Have we found GOD?!!?

 Keep Your God Out Of My Physics!

The term ‘God particle’ gets tossed around a lot; it’s catchy (catchier than Brout-Englert-Higgs particle) and gives a little wink to the whole religion/science debacle. And with the recent announcement from CERN bolstering their July findings, expect the God particle term to get bandied around even more. But should we be calling it the God particle? The term was first used by Leon Lederman in his book The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?. It was supposed to be a joke; his publisher wouldn’t let him call it the Goddamn particle. Now he says he’s managed to piss off both scientists and the clergy by coining the term. Lederman talks more about the choice of name and how people reacted to it in an interview with National Public Radio.

 

Get ready for de-extinction

Continuing with the Bible references, Australian scientists of the Lazarus project have managed to revive an extinct frog species, if only for a little while. The gastric-brooding frog (Rheobatrachus silus) was discovered in 1973 and became extinct by the 1980s, but some tissue samples were saved and stored in deep freezers (-80°C). Scientists were able to extract DNA from the tissues, and inserted that into a donor egg cell from a different frog species (Great Barred Frog, Mixophyes fasciolatus). The DNA of the donor egg cell was inactivated by ultraviolet light, and when replaced with gastric-brooding frog DNA, some of the egg cells began to divide. Sound familiar? That’s the same technique used to create Dolly the sheep, the world’s first cloned mammal. Unlike Dolly, the embryos failed to mature and didn’t survive beyond a couple of days. In the wild, they would have entered the world like this:

  

Hello world! The gastric-brooding frog mom swallows its eggs, grows its young in its stomach, and gives birth via her mouth. Gastric-brooding frogs became extinct in the 1980s.

(source: Australian Government Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts &Bob Beale)

DNA tests confirmed that the embryos were indeed gastric-brooding frogs. Scientists are now looking to refine their techniques and discuss the implications of reviving extinct animals, such as the dodo (said to be delicious) and the woolly mammoth (said to be woolly).

 

It seems that life really does find a way.

(source: jurassicpark.wikia.com)

 

And finally…

(source: Supervliegzus 2010/Getty Images)

 This is a picture of a couple of squirrel monkeys riding a capybara. Story here.

 

 

So, my dears, which extinct animal would you want to be brought back? Answer in the comments! Meanwhile, I’m off! Laters.   ♥

 

Posted in Science2 Comments

Convenience Confessional: RH vs. Rape

With the resounding defeat of Church lobbyists on the matter of the RH Law, Fr. Melvin Castro of the CBCP said that he could at least thank the law’s proponent and principal author Albay Representative Edcel Lagman for one thing—because of the publicity of the RH debates, young Catholics are now confessing the sin of using contraception.

If you are familiar at all with the Catholic Church and its behavior regarding rapes by its employed priests, you would know that they view confession as so sacred that any part of it cannot even be used as testimony against a rapist. A priest hearing the confession of a rapist cannot be compelled to reveal that confession to authorities, secular or ecclesiastical. The priest is bound, upon pain of excommunication, never to speak of the secret.

Castro’s statements emphasize the complete hypocrisy and lack of human compassion of the Catholic Church, where it can just as easily break that sacrament when it can score cheap political points but never do it for its institution’s victims. Without revealing specifics, Castro, and whoever reported the confessions to him, broke that sacrament.

Of course, Castro denies breaking the sacramental seal. He says the identity of the penitent must be “publicly” revealed in order for the seal to be truly violated. It appears that the sins you tell your priest are fair game for gossip as long as they don’t tell everyone your name. If only the Church would exploit such technicalities to support police investigating rapist priests.

 

Where There’s Gold…

The sacrament of confession is a particularly strange relic marking the ancient and bygone political powers of the Catholic Church. Through this sacrament, priests are told by penitents, both the small and the powerful, their deepest darkest secrets, for the guarantee that they will be forgiven by God. Needless to say, the confessional is a goldmine for blackmail and coercion. It was particularly useful in discovering the Katipunero rebellion during the Philippine Revolution.

The confessional is a very intimate place. It is at this place the faithful are most vulnerable as they are encouraged not to hold anything back. In fact, it is itself a mortal sin to willfully keep any grievous evil from a priest during confession, as an earnest confession clears one’s soul of any wrongdoing.

Assuming you don’t sin on the way, if you get hit by a car going out of Church after confession, you are going straight to heaven—no purgatory necessary. The confessional is where priests have believers by the balls. This is true both figuratively and literally.

 

The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most

Dave Rudofsky was 8 years old in the 1980’s. Like most Catholic children his age, he would soon prepare for receiving the literal body of Jesus Christ in the form of bread. This means he first has to clean the vessel that is his body by confessing all his sins in his first holy confession. His confessor, Rev. James Burnett took advantage of the 8 year-old’s vulnerability and molested him.

Cases like Dave’s have become so frequent that Pope John Paul II issued the encyclical Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela in 2001. This updated Crimen sollicitationis, released in 1962 during Pope John XXIII’s tenure, which tackled the problem of priests using the confessional for the purpose of sexual activity. Among those outlined as “grave delicts” or violations of canon law in Sacramentorum was “Solicitation to sin with the confessor against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue, in the act of, context of or pretext of the Sacrament of Penance.” This was reinforced by the head of the Inquisition, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in De delictis gravioribus.

However, in addition to condemning rapist priests using the confessional to, for example, forgive sexual partners of the sins they commit together, these statements also reiterate the inviolability of the seal of the sacrament of confession. No one must ever reveal what goes on during confession, even if it means justice for a rape victim. This would be a “direct violation of the sacramental seal.”

Though Castro argues that he and his cohorts did not break the sacramental seal, it can be argued that they did so indirectly. The sacramental seal is so deeply regarded that Crimen itself states that during canonical trials conducted to investigate rapes, any testimony that might even “suggest a direct or indirect violation of the seal” will be thrown out of the case and will not be recorded (Crimen sollicitationis, Chapter III(52)). Castro’s political grandstanding surely suggests at least an indirect violation. More to the point, regardless of any technical wrongdoing under canon law, Castro shows the moral cowardice of the Church and its employees—revealing some confessions when expedient while keeping others when inconvenient.

 

The Secret’s in the Telling

Doctors enjoy physician-patient privilege. They do not reveal the contents of their consultations with patients with anyone, upon pain of having their license revoked. This is to make sure there is a culture of trust between doctors and patients; it improves the medical relationship, which results in more accurate diagnoses. The same could be said as the motivation behind the sacramental seal, but at a far grander and cosmic scale. However, doctors are still obliged by secular law to report information to the police if their patients pose a threat to society, among other situations. Priests do not have such ethical or legal duties to the nations they operate in. Their duty is to the king in the Vatican first.

The Church does not care about the harm it causes society (indeed, denies it) and does everything it takes, even going against their own principles, to make sure their institution survives for centuries to come. The Catholic Church has consistently used the seal of the confessional as a defense against criminal investigation of rapist priests. Melvin Castro reveals what this defense truly is—a sham and an abuse of religious freedom.

This Lent, think about whether you can trust your priest with your sins. Think about Dave the next time you walk into a confessional. From the start, the Church has acted as if its hands have been bound with supernatural chains, unable to help rape victims by disclosing details revealed during confessions. Castro’s statements expose that these chains are imaginary. Goodness knows what other imaginary things they tell the faithful.

Posted in Religion3 Comments

A Jesuit’s Doublespeak on the RH Law

Despite sounding like a very progressive Catholic, Ateneo de Davao University president Joel Tabora, S.J. has never really stated, at least not publicly, whether he agrees with the underlying logic of the Reproductive Health (RH) Law.

When asked on Twitter by Filipino Freethinkers president Red Tani if he believes that using artificial contraception is inherently evil (as defined by the Roman Catholic Church in Casti Connubii and Humanae Vitae), Tabora replied:

“Based on the level of natural law that is presupposed in those encyclicals, yes. But I do not think an abstract category such as “inherently evil” is fruitful in understanding the demands of Christian ethics today.”

Notice that the first sentence is as qualified as it gets, and the second sentence removes whatever illusion of significance the first sentence has to Red’s question on Tabora’s stand on contraception. And if that wasn’t enough, Tabora further said:

“To illustrate: is it “inherently” evil to separate the conjugal act from both its unitive and procreative meanings? Do not get me wrong. The notion of natural law and its use as a foundation for moral teaching has developed. It is “complicated.” Doctrines develop. There was a time when the Church tolerated slavery and persecuted heretics.”

It seems that Tabora is being deliberately ambiguous or evasive by implicitly undermining the encyclicals without expressly going against the Church’s teachings. But does his doublespeak mean dishonesty? Let the reader be the judge, keeping in mind that the university president’s job description is unlikely to include the right to publicly deny the Catholic position.

But while his statements on RH are so carefully crafted, look how freely he speaks of things he truly believes in:

“I certainly believe there are grave sins. That’s why there is the Cross. And Resurrection.”

This time he didn’t mention the Church, let alone the encyclicals. He categorically stated his belief in Christ – something he did not do on the issue of RH and contraception and whether he agrees with the Vatican’s teachings.

It has been Fr. Tabora’s thesis that there is nothing in the RH law “which prevents a good Catholic from being a good Catholic.” He also said that

Image credit: Ateneo de Davao website

“If the “Catholic Church” is truly convinced of its position, convince first the Catholics of it, then propose law based on their collective witness. Running to legislation to do the job of proclamation and religious education will not convince Catholics who are not convinced.”

In those two sentences Fr. Tabora summed up everything secularism stands for. It doesn’t matter if he never clearly stated his support for reproductive health, because he left a reminder that the legislature ought not to aid any religion. And as far as the advocacy for the separation of Church and State is concerned, this Jesuit educator is as secular as Catholic priests ever get.

* * * * *
Author’s Note: I realize that the title of the article should have been “A Jesuit’s Apparent Doublespeak on the RH Law” and that a certain part should have been “…his apparent doublespeak…” to better reflect my own thoughts and interpretations. In the name of journalistic integrity however, the title and the article will remain as such albeit this note.

Posted in Religion, RH Bill, Secularism2 Comments

Meet a Freethinker: Miam Tan-Fabian

No two freethinkers are exactly alike; a group of freethinkers contains a great diversity of perspectives, so there is no one, official perspective shared among all of them. This makes the freethought community a truly vibrant source of ideas and opinions!

In this light, Meet a Freethinker is our series featuring freethinkers of all backgrounds and perspectives. We want to introduce you guys to the people who make up the proverbial melting pot of this growing movement.

Our next freethinker is Miam Tan-Fabian. Miam is a freelance consultant, researcher-statistician, and writer with a B.S. Biology background. She also homeschools her son and manages her husband’s band.

1) How would you define a freethinker?

The textbook answer is that freethinking is the practice of basing your thoughts and thought processes on reason, logic, and empirical data while standing up against any kind of dogma.  By dogma, I mean not just religious dogma, but even political or ideological dogma, or any opinion that someone asserts as beyond reproof, criticism, or dissent.

Let me give an example: If a mom had a child getting sick, rather than say, “Bahala na ang Diyos”, she can go to the nearest rural health center which offers free medical and health-related services; have the child checked and given a prescription; buy generic medicine; or if the treatment is costly, ask for support from PCSO.

2) What belief system do you subscribe to?

Right now, what seems to describe my current state and one that I am comfortable with is agnosticism.  I am not really sure about whether there is a god or gods, and I am presently unwilling to make a claim for either his/her/its existence or non-existence, so it’s really more of a stance rather than strictly a belief system.

3) What was the funniest or most interesting reaction you got from a person after you told him or her that you were a freethinker?

We were having an after class/course party with the MBA students that my boss was teaching at that time. Seated to my right side was one conservative female MBA student who is also a member of one of these popular evangelical megachurches. Across her was a male MBA student who did not see any contradiction with drinking and professing to be Christian (which I thought was refreshing).  Ironically though, while the night was progressing, he was turning a rather rosy lobster pink, was unnaturally chatty, and was friendlier than I ever remembered him in class.

In the middle of the conversation, when the gal found out I was a freethinker and asked what I had against Christian belief, I said, “Nothing except that the burden of proof lies with you since you are the one making the claim”. Between my statement and the seemingly inebriated guy across us saying, “Being born again is simply a relationship,” while quickly downing the next shot of beer, wine, gin, or whatnot (I lost track of what he was drinking and how much of each), the girl had nothing to say.  I felt a little bad for her though.

4) In what way has being part of a freethinking community benefited you?

I feel accepted, validated, and empowered in this community of like-minded and tolerant people, many of whom I consider as genuine friends.  We can no longer fit in mainstream organized religious organizations but at the same time, we could not find quite the right group to join and commit to. We wanted relationships but not the dogma.  We also loved anime, manga, Star Trek, Star Wars, gaming, geekery and nerdy stuff and people who could appreciate that.

Moreover, I feel that whatever I do is significant in helping create a society that values and respects everyone’s belief or even unbelief, that bases its decisions on fact and not because someone powerful, rich, and/or popular says it’s so. This is the kind of society which I would like to present to my son and to future generations.  And even if I will never see the fruits of our work in my lifetime, inching to the realization of that secular society keeps me optimistic.

On homeschooling

5) Why did you decide to homeschool your son?

How long have you got? 🙂 There are many reasons but the main one is that traditional schooling has failed us, me, my husband, and most importantly, my son Sil in several ways. His first school was not able to teach him to read in one year despite being reading ready, was unable to manage him, and finally admited they couldn’t.

His second school fared even worse.  The school looked more like a prison than a school.  Despite the low teacher to student ratio, his teacher miscorrected a Math exam which Sil should have perfected. That same teacher too had the most atrocious grammar and writing skills so I could not trust her with teaching English to Sil. The final straw was when a teacher left Sil and his classmate in his classroom’s comfort room. Sil, finding a hose, wet himself and his classmate, his teacher, his classmates, and flooded his classroom.

6) Where do you get your materials for homeschooling, considering that a lot of homeschooling materials are produced by religious groups?

Unfortunately, as far as I know, all homeschooling organizations and institutions in the country are sectarian.  This means that there is bound to be some religious propaganda in the materials they recommend.  The good news is that we can still choose which of these religious lessons to teach, can decide on the treatment (tell the child it is only a good story), or teach alongside the lessons other alternatives. For example, rather than just teach one creation story (the Bible-based one), we taught Sil 5-6 other creation stories. He preferred the more violent Norse and Native American creation stories over the biblical account.

It has been very challenging to say the least, and there are plenty of days when I just want to tear all my hair by the roots and just give up, but when I see my son grow, develop, and mature while we as parents learn alongside him, I am convinced that I am doing the right thing.

Posted in Meet a Freethinker0 Comments

A Thank You Letter for Tintin and Camille

Dear Tintin and Camille,

I hope you are aware of what you’ve done. Are you? Let me tell you.

Tintin, you’ve shown that there are parents who badly need gender and sexuality education (the right kind of education, mind you). Sorry, you can’t squeeze your way out of this. Whatever you do from this point forward, however many sorry’s you spew out, your ‘article’ has already proven that there are parents who have little to zero understanding of how to handle the gender and sexuality aspects of raising a child. That’s what you’ve done.

Camille, you’ve shown that there are people who blur the lines between what they learned in training and what is their personal opinion. It’s one thing to pepper your opinion with faith and traditional beliefs. But to use your credentials to mask your medieval musings is completely unacceptable. Starting today, we’re going to be a lot more careful of you and other ‘psychologists’ who have an opinion on anything. That’s what you’ve done.

Tintin and Camille, you’ve proven that there are people like you who have not learned from the mistakes of Miriam Quiambao, Anthony Taberna, and Manny Pacquiao. But do you know what else you’ve done?

You’ve proven that there are real experts out there who will expose your misguided truths. And you’ve also proven that we will no longer take this sitting down, that this ignorant and hateful attitude shall no longer go unnoticed with impunity. You made me feel good because after all these years of fighting for equality, there are still tireless LGBT activists and allies willing to stand up for what is right. You made me wonder what greater challenges we can overcome. You made me believe that my children (if I decide to have them) might actually be in good hands when they grow up. You made me believe that a future without people like you might be closer than I thought. You made me look forward to that. That’s what you’ve done.

And for that, from the bottom of my homosexual heart, thank you!

A gay son with a loving, informed, and educated mother,
Ron de Vera

more from the same writer: original | op-ed | blog

Image from digitaljournal.com

 

Posted in Advocacy, Gender Rights2 Comments

Benedict Is My Last Pope

I remember staying up into the wee hours of April 20, 2005, watching CNN, eagerly anticipating the new pope. I was Catholic then and the only pope I had ever known was John Paul II. He had reigned for 26 years, and suddenly, my Church had no earthly leader.

When Benedict stepped out of the curtains that morning and into the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, I choked up. I believed I was witnessing God’s hand, active in the world. While John Paul I began the tradition of eschewing the extravagant papal triple tiara, popes were still kings—and we had a new one. Popes are absolute monarchs of the Mussolini-established Vatican state. At the same time, popes are vicars of Christ. That is to say, they take the place of the Son of God on Earth. For Catholics, popes aren’t really elected by the College of Cardinals. Rather, popes are chosen by the Holy Spirit—the third person of the triune God. This gives the pope supernatural powers to rein in a billion-strong flock.

Unlike the popes that came before him for hundreds of years, Benedict quit his post. He quit being Jesus Christ’s human representative. Had I stayed Christian, his leaving would have deeply troubled me. Here was a man who was throwing away a divinely ordained commission because he was, as he says, too sick to go on. Too sick to be supported by God, apparently.

Looking from the outside now, it is patently obvious how utterly human the entire Catholic institution is. And, no, not the humanity that the Church peddles as sharing in human experience. It is human in the mortal and parochial sense. For all its lofty claims, the Catholic Church is really an earthly business run by a small cabal of conservatives. Benedict’s resignation made this clear and it is made entirely transparent by the election of Jorge Bergoglio, a 76 year-old Jesuit of Italian descent from Argentina. Latin America, once a bastion of Catholicism, is now seeing a dwindling Church losing political influence—one a South American pope just might rectify.

It always struck me as strange when Catholics hope for the new pope to reform the Catholic Church. That is like asking God Himself to change his mind. (And, of course, what are petitionary prayers for but to ask God to suspend his divine plan for your insipid request?) If one truly believes that the Holy Spirit guides the pope and, in turn, guides the Church, why would one even think about reforms?

Bears defecate in the woods, and popes are Catholic. It therefore comes as no shock that the new Pope Francis, just like the old pope, is an enemy of equal rights for the LGBT. Apart from allegations of colluding with the Argentinian military junta in the 70’s, including hiding political prisoners from an international delegation (an evil not as easily dismissible as Joseph Ratzinger’s membership in the Hitlerjugend), Bergoglio was also a staunch opponent of the marriage equality initiative in Argentina. Belying supernatural intervention, Argentina is the first Latin American nation to allow same-sex couples to enjoy equal rights with opposite-sex couples. Bergoglio called the initiative a “destructive attack on God’s plan,” which of course includes stopping gay marriage.

Benedict XVI is my last pope. I left the Church under his reign when I saw how much suffering it had caused the world—suffering my Catholicism indefensibly and directly supported. Francis has now replaced Benedict after 7 years of reigning. At Francis’ age, he will probably be replaced just as soon. Cardinals are keenly aware of how young popes tend to stymie ambition with long reigns. Behind the pomp and circumstance of white smoke and secret conclaves, the pope is the leader of an organization that stands enemy to human rights, all the while touting humanitarian causes. Apologists complain that skeptics like to emphasize the flaws of the Church and that we should not expect a perfect organization. But, at some point, when you claim that your club is divine, faults as egregious as those the Church is guilty of simply cannot be excused.

I didn’t wake up early this time to hear the new bishop of Rome address the city and the world. It is no longer a supernatural event to me. But, the Catholic Church is still important, despite my complete rejection of it, as long as it continues to dictate so many things about our lives. I, now an atheist, maintain hope that perhaps this new pope will take that miraculous tiny first step towards joining the world here in the 21st century. Forgive me this one delusion.

 

Image Credit: National Geographic

Posted in Personal, Religion3 Comments

Filipino Freethinkers Meetup, March 16, 2013 (Saturday), Holy Trinity Church

Location: Holy Trinity Church, 48 Mckinley Road, Forbes Park, Makati
Google map: http://goo.gl/wCMAl
Date: Saturday, March 16, 2013
Time: 2:30pm – 5:30pm

RSVP on Facebook

 

Talk by Ron de Vera
– Human Rights 101

Discussion topics
– Election is coming, who are you voting for?
– Does it matter if a best-selling gay novel was written by a straight author?
– How does sex with someone change after you enter into a committed relationship with them?

 

After the meetup we usually go for dinner and drinks somewhere nearby. If you’re not a meetup regular and can’t make it for the meetup but would like to go for the post meetup, please indicate on a post in the wall or comment so we can contact you.

Got questions about the meetup? Contact us at 0927 323 3532

* Newbies are welcome.
* Look for the FF sign (or the group of smart, sexy people).
* There is no required age, religion, philosophy, or IQ level.
* Discussions are informal yet intelligent (most of the time).
* You don’t have to talk; you can just sit in and listen.

Posted in Announcements0 Comments

Lab Letters Issue #7: 3-D Printed Skulls, Golden Rice, & Viking Sunstones

Lab Letters Issue #7: 3-D Printed Skulls, Golden Rice, & Viking Sunstones

Hey there, pals! Time for another issue of Lab Letters, FF’s weekly micro-post!

The man with the plastic skull

Here’s something that’s been making the rounds lately: the guy with a 3-D printed skull. How is it done? First, the biomedical/materials manufacturing company Oxford Performance Materials scanned the patient’s head, modeled the missing chunk of skull on a computer, printed it out, then surgically put it into the patient’s skull. The company says the implant was ready in two weeks after the head scan.

 

The small indentations made on the skull replacement encourage cell growth

(source: Oxford Performance Materials)

 A 3-D printer works by adding layers upon layers of material (usually plastic) to construct an object initially rendered in a computer. The highly precise method allows users to build stuff with great detail and customization. 3-D printing  isn’t a new technology, having been around since the 80s. Recently though, it’s gotten cheaper, more efficient, and more robust –  it is now a quickly growing field that has applications in a whole lot of different sectors (engineering, medicine, modeling, industrial design, etc). Now we can print out body parts, guns, food, and even haute couture. I wouldn’t download a car, but I will absolutely print one out if I could! And the future says I definitely can.

 

Left: Golden rice Right: White rice.

(source: Forbes)

I can’t believe it’s not buttered rice!

 Meanwhile, back at the farm, scientists at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Laguna have been crafting golden rice for the better part of three decades. Golden rice is a genetically-modified grain that contains beta-carotene, which makes it yellow. Once in the body, beta-carotene is processed into vitamin A, an essential nutrient for a healthy immune system and normal vision. Earlier this year, IRRI has announced that it has concluded two seasons of field trials in Camarines Sur. This is part of a long regulatory process by the Department of Agriculture to ensure the safety and efficiency of the product. IRRI hopes to make the grain widely available to the public by 2015.

 

Left: Viking warrior in the Middle Ages Right: a modern visualization

(source: jarkko1.deviantart.com; GQ.com)

 The magical Viking sunstone

The Vikings are known as fearsome medieval warriors who wore horned helmets, drank wine from the skulls of their fallen enemies, and scoured the Scandinavian peninsula looking for women to rape and villages to plunder (not all true, by the way). They traveled extensively on water, and were very much adept at nautical navigation. Some sources claim that they used magical sunstones to help them locate the sun when it was cloudy or even during dusk. Accounts of Vikings using sunstones were believed to be merely allegorical, but recently a team of French scientists have reported finding a crystal in the wreckage of a British ship that sunk in 1592 in the English Channel. It was found near the ship’s navigational equipment, and was determined to be Icelandic spar, a polarizing mineral that can break up sunlight into two beams. By rotating the crystal until the two beams line up, the position of the sun can be determined. Note that the Vikings weren’t around anymore in the 16th century, but the British sailors may have used a sunstone as a backup for their magnetic compasses.

 

Left: Iceland spar is made of calcite and can bend light two ways Right: the calcite crystal pulled from the shipwreck.

(source: R.Weller/Cochise College; Alderney Museum)

Your next wallpaper is here

National Geographic, in celebration of its 125th anniversary, recently launched a tumblr site for its old photo archives. The photos show a variety of eras and cultures, from a motorcycle club in 1960s London to a Texas cowgirl parking her pony to Alexander Graham Bell kissing his wife in a tetrahedral kite. Yep.

 

 

 

 

Hope you had fun, and I’ll see you folks in next week’s Lab Letters!

 

 

Posted in Science0 Comments

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