Thoughts on Language and Woo

So I went to a meetup tonight. Another Celtic meetup.

It was hosted by a guy who is learning to speak Welsh. There was a woman there from Scotland who is learning Gaelic.

They talked about the myths and what historical knowledge was preserved in them. They also talked about how languages contain ways of thinking within them. In Gaelic, you are not hungry, nor do you have feelings. They are upon you. You are not simply from somewhere. You are of somewhere. The place is not a part of you. You are a part of the place.

In some languages. many words sound like other words. These homophones give clues to worldviews. I think they mentioned that many words, including the words for “knowledge” in Gaelic and Welsh, sound very close to the word for tree. For centuries trees was where communities gathered to make important decisions, and many druids, bards and keepers of knowledge lived near trees. Sometimes a line of poetry can have many layers of meaning.

When a land is conquered, the conquerors ban the language to remove people’s identity. Many times the place names remain, but people forget what they mean. It is a dark pool of knowledge. But I do not live in the land of my ancestors. I do not even live where I was born. All I can do is speak of these things clearly and plainly.

He also seemed to believe in reincarnation. And homeopathy. There seemed to be some woo.

But I realized that in a way a lot of the New Age stuff can be somewhat compatible with skepticism. The myths contain the views of people from previous times. Sometimes the words and stories are all that is left of entire worldviews. Perhaps the people preserving some of this knowledge are misinterpreting it, or taking viewpoints literally that have been superceded by scientific knowledge. But I do think there is knowledge there. And it is historical knowledge that should be preserved.

Perhaps if you don’t have a non-mechanistic worldview it can be hard to study some of this stuff. I don’t know how to resolve that contradiction.


Image from Wikimedia


2012-07 Latino Atheists Meeting

We had a meeting of the Latino Atheists more than a week ago. The monthly writeup is late.

The roster was myself, Jose, Martha, Jaime, Luz (Jaime’s wife), Lee, Victoria, Mike and Elyse (I think that is how it is spelled) and Franco and Margaret. Pablo showed up much later as well.

The new people were Mike and Elyse and Lee. Lee is from Taiwan. I arrived late, so I did not hear her story.

I have seen this trend that we get some new people at a meeting, and then they never come back. At least it’s not just Jose, Jaime and me complaining about low attendance.

A big chunk of the meeting was Franco giving prophecies of doom about the environment, pollution and energy. He says that climate change and pollution have passed the point of no return. He says that people put too much faith in technological solutions because those solutions may be unfeasable or have aftereffects and/or byproducts that people ignore. He said that we need to consume less. Early in his speech, Luz asked him if he thinks it is a contradiction to talk about pollution if he uses plastic, objects that are made of plastic (like a cel phone) or drive a car. He insisted that what he does makes no difference. Margaret says that they use as little plastic as possible, almost zero.

But I think that Luz asked a valid question. If you do not consume less, then how can you persuade others to consume less? And if you are worried about the environment, is it rational to wait for everybody else to change? Also: I do not think that consuming less and technological solutions are mutually exclusive. And I think that we should also push efficiency, but I do not have a solution to the issue of the rebound effect. This phenomenon is that when you make a process more efficient then people do more of it. So making energy generation more efficient may result in higher consumption.

Jose also gave us a video assignment: Arithmetic, Population and Energy  by Dr. Albert Bartlett, professor emeritus at the physics department at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

A few people came late, and Jose said that when people come late they should tell a joke. I think we should get rid of this rule. Few peopel can be funny on demand. Someone told us a joke, and they had to point out the punch line after they gave it.

As for Mike and Elyse: Mike did more of the talking. Mike and Jose both said that we should not shy away from the term atheist, which I agree with. Many people avoid that term since “atheist” has a bad image in this country. But by avoiding using the term, they are not doing anything to change the negative image. Mike also talked about his Polish grandmother’s deathbed de-conversion. It is interesting that even the non-Latinos at the meeting are from Catholic ethnicities.

This may be the last meeting with Martha for a while. She is being transferred to a small town in Iroquois County, Illinois. All the towns in Iroquois County are small towns. Illinois is the only state with an Iroquois County.

One theme that I am seeing come up at the Latino Atheists meeting (as well as other atheist/skeptic meetups in general) is the isolation that many female atheists/skeptics can feel, particularly minorities. It first came to my attention when Black Nonbelievers of Chicago brought Sikivu Hutchinson here for a lecture.

There was some discussion about whether or not to use Atheist Nexus for communication, or to use Facebook. Someone pointed out that there are ways to make stuff really really private on Facebook. Personally I do not like Facebook, and they have a habit of changing privacy settings and default settings without telling people.

Next month, Jose will be in DC. I will be in Austin that month, so depending on when the meeting is one of us will not be there. So there may not be a monthly write-up.

Image from Wikipedia page for Mexican state of Baja California

June 2012 Latino Atheists Meeting

The June meeting of the Chicago Latino Atheists group happened yesterday. We met at the Buzz Cafe, but there were so many of us that we got moved upstairs. We had been coming there for a couple of years, and we did not know there was an upstairs room.

Turnout was pretty high. It was myself, Jose, Martha, Jaime, Jaime’s wife, Eduardo, Espy, Vicky, Francisco and Raquel. I had seen Vicky and Francisco at different atheist/skeptic events around Chicago, but I did not interact with them very much. Eduardo and Espy are siblings, and Martha was happy to see another pair of siblings.

Jaime’s wife is taking a summer break from her day job of saving the world. She lived up to her reputation and gave us all an assignment: We should all prepare something about women and atheism. Martha gave her the nickname La Acha, which Martha said means “The Axe”. (The Spanish word for “hammer” ends with the letter “O”, and was determined to be inappropriate.)  At the last meeting Jaime’s sister got into a “discussion” with Jose, and she did not show up to this meeting. Thanks a lot, Jose.

Martha reserved the room for next month. She was reluctant to use the word “Atheist” in the reservation. But she kept the logic. (Religious people “keep the faith”, we stay rational.)

Eduardo expressed an interest in attending other atheist/skeptical groups in Chicago. I gave him my take on the scene in Chicago. He wanted to have a Latino Atheist meeting in the Loop to get us to two meetings a month. We shall see what happens. Espy recently moved to Chicago, and has worked as a personal trainer. She had lived in California. She and Eduardo had also lived in Wisconsin, and are glad to be out.

Jaime said that Eduardo knows a lot about Drupal. Perhaps there will be some changes to the website.

Raquel is a college student from Texas who is interning at a local gallery. She is the first Texan I have met who does not have a driver’s license. She is from an area of Texas outside the Golden Triangle (Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth). Jose and Martha have relatives in El Paso, so there was some talk about the difference between the cartel spillover in different parts of Texas. The school Raquel attends is in Edinburg, about 330 miles from Houston. Both cities are very very far from El Paso. Texas is big. I mean, it’s really big. No, seriously, you won’t believe how big it is. Raquel also said that if she stays in Texas she would live in Austin.

Martha and Espy are going to recruit and train an cadre of fit, atheist Hispanic women. Hopefully they will unleash an army of bikini-clad, equation-spewing Salma Hayek look-alikes on the world. I am pretty certain that is their plan. And I for one would welcome our new fit, rational Latina overlords. (I suppose I should say “overladies”, but I am not sure if it is a real word.) Religious people have their fantasies, and I have mine.

Cowboy hats and thigh-high stilletto-heeled boots. I’m just saying……

Image of seal of Mexican state of Aguascalientes from Wikipedia

May 2012 Latino Atheists Meeting

There was a Latino Atheists meeting out in Warrenville. There were not as many new people as we had hoped. It was me, Jaime, Jose, Martha, Jaime’s wife, and the only new person: Jaime’s sister.

Contrary to predictions, Jaime’s wife did not lay down the law and give us a to-do list and set out some plans. She had to leave early to save the world. That’s her day job.

Jaime talked about the web site, and is thinking about some new layouts. We decided that we should consistenly produce some more content before we worry about the layout.

Martha will write about science fiction (we spent a lot of time explaining “Doctor Who” to Jaime and his wife) and give dating advice. Jose might write about why he started the group and what the plans are.

We would also like some contributions from Latinos in other states. If you would like to write an article about the growing Latino Atheist movement, contact us. You could send us a message on Twitter. I don’t think too many of us are into Facebook.

Image of Mexico City flag from Wikipedia

Latino Atheists Meeting 2012-05-12: New Location

The next meeting for the Chicago Latino Atheists Meetup is on May 12, 2012. The location will be Warrenville. It will be at the Corner Bakery at 28258 Diehl Road. So if you live out in the Western suburbs and have been wanting to come to a meeting, now is your big chance.

Image from Meetup. Original source unknown.

Latino Atheists Meeting With Juhem Navarro-Rivera

The big Latino Atheists meeting with Juhem Navarro-Rivera (Twitter account) and his wife Yasmin happened this past weekend. There were quite a few people there: most of the usual crew, and a couple of new faces. He also has a site called The LatiNone (Twitter account here).

Another new face was Rachel, another non-Hispanic. She is interested in pushing atheist/skeptical activism forward here in Chicago, and has told me about groups I had not heard of.

One of the big topics of discussion is the religious demographics of Latinos in the USA. The big story is that a lot of Latinos are leaving the Roman Catholic Church and becoming evangelicals. But the other big story is that the number of non-affiliated Latinos is increasing just as quickly. JNR likes the term “Nones” to encompass atheists, agnostics, humanists and just about any other label that people who give themselves if they do not believe in any deity or religion. I think that is a good term, since atheism is not a religion.

He will probably post more about it. He wants us to use the ARIS survey and not the Pew survey  of religious affiliation. He also mentioned that many media reports on Latino religious trends talk about the RCC to evangelical migration, but ignore the growth of Latino Nones. He said that the Nones are the third largest group of Latinos, after the RCC and evangelicals. There are more Latino Nones than all other non-RCC and non-evangelicals combined.

Jose, Martha, Rachel and Mr and Mrs NR talked about the Reason Rally. JNR and Jose talked about what direction the group should take: Should we incorporate, become part of a larger group (like CFI  or Hispanic American Freethinkers). It looks like Hispanic American Freethinkers is a registered non-profit.

JNR talked about politics as well. The Republican Party has been trying to get Latinos into their party on the assumption that Latinos are culturally conservative. But the Tea Party/Talibaptist wing of the party (which is most of it) is driving them out.

JNR said he would like to see an atheist president, but it is not a big deal to him. We decided that Jaime will be our first atheist president, as well as the first Latino president. The next meeting might be out in Aurora at Jaime’s place. His wife will put us on the straight and narrow.

Jaime 2020. Make it happen.

Image from The LatiNone

How To Lie With Statistics

There is a monthly “Skeptic Salon” run by the Chicago Skeptics, aka a book club. This month’s selection is How To Lie With Statistics by Darrell Huff, 142 pages, written in 1954, copyright renewed in 1982. What follows is a short summary.

He talks about the difference between mean (average) and median. He talks about sample response (Yale salaries: Perhaps those who were poor did not respond, thus lifting the reported average to be greater than the reported average), is the sample big enough, changing the axis of charts (starting at 90 instead of 0 for changes between 95 and 100 can make the changes look much larger than they are) to mislead (intentionally or otherwise), using figures to distort: if b is two times as big as A, then the image for B should only be twice as tall or twice as wide. If you make it twice as tall AND twice as wide, you are making B appear about 4 to 6 times larger, and the post hoc ergo proctor hoc fallacy.

The last chapter he gives hints on how to spot bad or misleading statistics. It is almost a small skeptic primer.

  • Who Says So: look for bias from whoever gives you the stat: conscious bias, unconscious bias
  • How Does He Know: A survey was sent to a large number of companies, but only 14% responded. The survey was trying to determine if the firms were price gouging. A sample could be biased. It could be too small.
  • Did Somebody Change the Subject: Learn to distinguish between the raw figure and the conclusion. More cases of a disease does not mean more people are getting it. It may simply have been misdiagnosed in the past, or people had it but died of something else
  • Does It Make Sense: Social Security makes no sense. It is set up to give benefits when people reach the age of 65, but the average life expectency (at the time) was only 63. Nobody will live long enough to get the benefits. Also: Trends will not continue forever as they have in the past: TV ownership was increasing 10,000% from 1947 to 1952. That cannot continue forever.

Image from Wikimedia

I will be helping out Latino Atheists

For about a year I have been meeting up with a couple of Latino Atheists that I met through Latinos are becoming a major demographic in our society, and I thought that I should get to know some Latinos. But I did not want to deal with questions about religion; as far as I know most Latinos are Catholic. So this group seemed like it would be a good fit.

For a long time there was a lot of talk and not a lot of action. But now one of them has started a website: Latino Atheists. There is also a Twitter account: @LatinoAtheists. The admin said he would give me an account and would like me to contribute. I will probably cross-post my content. I tend to not do a lot on Sundays for some reason, so I have not gotten back to the admin.

But first let’s get one thing clear right now:

It’s Jaime (HIGH-may, with the “I” before the “M”) if they are Hispanic, Jamie (JAY-mee, with the “I” after the “M”) if they are not.

Image from Wikipedia

I have succumbed to Facebook

I added an account to Facebook. I am getting requests from a few people I do not know. They are friends of people I do know. Should I accept them? Should I send them a message asking them why they friended me? Perhaps they want to be on the podcast.