27 November 2008

On Nutrition

On one of America's Mighty Food Holidays, a note to any vegetarians (or aspiring vegetarians) out there: Please feed your babies.

26 November 2008

Sharing Skepticism in Chiropractic

I've been wary of chiropractors for almost as long as I've been a self-identified skeptic. I frequented one throughout high school, never bothering to question the principles behind it, nor even its efficacy. I just assumed it was doing me good. Now I know that the practice is founded upon pseudoscience, that at best chiropractors can be physical therapists with delusions of grandeur.

But it wasn't until last spring that I learned that, not only is chiropractic ineffective, it also carries potential for serious injury. Specifically, chiropractic neck adjustment is linked to a specific type of stroke. (For more reading, Science-Based Medicine published further articles on chiropractic and stroke throughout the summer.)

This news troubled me greatly. I had never been warned about the risk by my chiropractor. And even if the risk of stroke is small, the risk is being taken for zero demonstrated benefit. Members of my family still see a chiropractor; concerned for their safety, I shared this news with them. It wasn't particularly well-received; as I feared, I came across as something of a Chicken Little. There was some acknowledgment that it might be a risk for others, but supposedly our chiropractor was different.

Some time later, I got a chance to try again. A friend of mine was having tension in his back, and was persuaded by his boss to visit a chiropractor. He had a good experience, and expressed interest in making a habit out of chiropractic visits.

I simply pointed out to him that the majority of chiropractic is based on pseudoscience, and can put you at risk for anything from wasted money to serious injury. So if he wanted to pursue a chiropractor, I'd recommend consulting Chirobase (a project of Quackwatch) so he'd at least know how to find a good one.

The information on Chirobase was enough to turn him off neck adjustments for sure, and possibly off chiropractors entirely.

I used a different kind of message, yes. But more importantly, I had a different kind of audience. My friend was already interested in learning more about chiropractic. All I did was to point him toward an excellent resource on the subject. But how do we get people to question, who aren't already questioning? Is it even possible, or do we just have to wait them out?

Skeptics have the facts on their side. That's what it means to be a skeptic; we go where the data leads us. That's a major advantage, but it won't do us any good unless we have our audience's attention.

25 November 2008


Dear Unidentified YouTube Algorithm,

I know you mean well. But just because I spend an afternoon watching one or seven "Kim Possible" clips, doesn't mean I'm a 13-years-old girl. Therefore, in the future, please refrain from putting compilations of "Best Animated Kisses of all times" in my Recommended Videos queue, at least while my wife is looking over my shoulder.


18 November 2008

JUST MARRIED (In a Secular Ceremony)!

Mr and Mrs GolasMiss me? ;-)

Okay, so technically Sara and I have been "just married" for over a month now. I wish I could say we've been spending the past few weeks on an extended honeymoon, but alas, there truly is no rest for the weary. We stayed up north for a couple days after the wedding, and then it was back to the ol' grind. I'd have written sooner, but I've been preoccupied with some pressing personal issues, and meanwhile been trying my damnedest to enjoy my marriage in spite of them. However, those issues have since been addressed, so maybe I can finally spare some attention once again for some recreational writing.

Sara and I were married the afternoon of October 11, 2008, in Rollins Chapel at Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH. Our close friend Benjamin Cox here served as officiant.

I'd be lying if I said the day went perfectly. But it was still one of the best days of my life. Family has always been incredibly important to me, especially so since my realization to atheism. I'm so glad my family was there for us, and I can't remember ever feeling closer to them than I did that
day. And I'm so proud to be able to include Sara among them.

Naturally, being atheists, Sara and I weren't interested in a religious ceremony. However, we both have a great affinity for ceremony and tradition. We definitely wanted something more personal than simply bringing witnesses before a Justice of the Peace. Furthermore, we wanted a ceremony that reflected the value we both place upon family.

So, with Ben's help, we wrote our own ceremony, and I think we came up with a damn fine one. I'd like to share it with you, so even if you couldn't be at the wedding, you might at least get a sense of what the ceremony was like.1

And if you're planning your own atheist wedding, congratulations, and I hope that maybe this helps as an example.

  • Entrance
  • Welcome, Presentation of Bride and Groom
  • Introductory Remarks
  • Exchange of Baskets (Cherokee custom)
  • Gifts of Bread, Salt, and Wine (Polish custom)
  • Message to the Parents (reading)
  • Couple Partakes of Bread and Wine (reading)
  • Exchange of Vows
  • Exchange of Rings
  • Oath of Affirmation
  • Pronouncement of Marriage
  • Presentation of the Couple


Guests are seated. Officiant enters.
Groom, followed by Groomsmen, enter from the side.
Bridesmaids proceed down center aisle to music.
Bride enters to music, is escorted down center aisle by her parents.

Officiant: Welcome. Friends and loved ones, we are gathered here today to witness the union of Aaron Golas and Sara Bersché. It is through their deep and abiding love for each other that they stand before you today, and it is through their deep and abiding love for all of you that they have asked you here to bear witness to their heartfelt vows of marriage.
Who presents this couple in marriage?

Parents: We do!

Officiant: Sara and Aaron have chosen an appropriate setting for the public affirmation of love they are about to undertake. Four years ago on this campus, they first found in each other a sense of shared purpose, friendship, and love which has grown so strong that they return here now to unite their lives in marriage. May the love and joy we all share with them today sanctify this place, that it may house their wedding as it nurtured their relationship at the start.

Aaron and Sara, you have come to love each other deeply and sincerely. In this ceremony, you celebrate your commitment and your love for each other and dedicate yourselves to your individual growth and partnership.

For marriage is a partnership, a commitment reinforced by love, of equals who discover that they are more fulfilled together than they are apart. Two people who choose the partnership of marriage need many skills to make it work. They need patience, kindness, generosity, good humor, and the ability to compromise. They need persistence, nurturing, trust, discretion, and the willingness to be vulnerable. But almost nothing offers a greater possibility for living life well. Life is richer when experience is shared, and good lovers bring out the best in each other. In a good relationship, the partners are aware of how much they need each other — of how much they transform each other. Joy, laughter, caring, tenderness, and hope are the gifts of love. In the presence of love, we feel our power and experience life in a new way. And you are partners in love who enjoy life more fully because you have found each other.

In this spirit of partnership, and in keeping with the custom of the bride’s Cherokee heritage, I invite the parents to come forward with baskets, lovingly prepared by the bride and groom as tokens of that which they bring to their union.

Mothers of the Bride and Groom stand and approach the altar, each holding a small basket.

Officiant: [To the Bride:] Sara, what do you provide for this union of marriage?

Mother of the Bride hands the Bride her basket of corn, and stands to the side.

Bride: I provide these things to my husband and home. They are a symbol that I will care for you and love you always.

Officiant: [To the Groom:] Aaron, what do you provide for this union of marriage?

Mother of the Groom hands the Groom his basket of meat, and stands to the side.

Groom: I provide these things to my wife and home. They are a symbol that I will provide, love and protect our family always.

Bride and Groom exchange baskets and lay them upon the sides of the altar.

Officiant: In keeping with the custom of the groom’s Polish heritage, the parents are now welcomed to present gifts of food and drink to their children.

Fathers of the Bride and Groom stand and approach the altar.

Officiant: [To couple:] Your parents offer you this loaf of bread and portion of salt. The bread represents your parents' hope that you will never experience hunger or need. The salt is to remind you that your lives may be difficult and you must learn together to cope with life's struggles.

Father of the Groom hands rye bread and salt to the Groom, who sets them upon the altar.

Officiant: [To couple:] Your parents now offer you a gift of wine. With this wine, your parents hope that you will never thirst and that you will have a life of good health and cheer and share the company of many good friends.

Father of the Bride hands decanter of tokaji to the Bride, who sets it upon the altar.

Officiant: Aaron and Sara’s union brings together two family traditions, two systems of roots, in the hope that a new family tree may become strong and fruitful.

The parents may now join in kissing the bride and groom as a welcome to the family and as a sign of their love and unity.

Parents of the Bride and Groom now kiss their own child, then their new child, before returning to their seats.

Officiant: Parents. Through your love you gave your children life, and with your constant love they prospered. They stand here today the fruits of your care, your hard work, and sacrifice, and for these things they are very, truly grateful.

But now, standing here together, having come of their own free will, they must begin their lives anew.

And so I say to you now, in the words of the poet Khalil Gibran:
“Your Children are not Your Children

They are the sons and daughters of life's longing for itself...
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts...
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth...
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies,
so he loves also the bow that is stable.”

Will you, David and Linda, Brian and Lydia, encourage Sara and Aaron in their marriage, celebrate with them the decision they have made to choose each other, and continue to stand beside them, yet not between them?

Parents: We will!

Officiant: Having been presented with these gifts of bread and wine, let us now invite the Bride and Groom to partake of them, together, again in the words of the poet Khalil Gibran:

As the poem is read, the Bride and Groom each pour a glass of wine and offer it to the other. They then break their loaves of bread and offer a piece to the other, sprinkling the bread with salt. They eat of the bread, and drink the wine.

Officiant: Aaron and Sara:
“You were born together,
and together you shall be forevermore...
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another, but make not a bond of love.
Let it rather be a moving sea between
the shores of your souls.
Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup. ***
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. ***
Sing and dance together and be joyous,
but let each of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone
though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together, yet not too near together.
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress
grow not in each other's shadow.”

Officiant: The Bride and Groom will now express their promises to each other.

Groom: I, Aaron, take you, Sara, as my wife. I do solemnly avow my love for you. I will comfort you, keep you, love you, defend you in sickness or in health, in riches or poverty, in sorrow or joy, seeking only to be with you until my dying day. All these things I pledge upon my honor, and with my earnest and complete devotion, I give you my love.

Bride: I, Sara, take you, Aaron, as my husband. I do solemnly avow my love for you. I will comfort you, keep you, love you, defend you in sickness or in health, in riches or poverty, in sorrow or joy, seeking only to be with you until my dying day. All these things I pledge upon my honor, and with my earnest and complete devotion, I give you my love.

Officiant: Traditionally, the passage to the status of husband and wife is marked by the exchange of rings. These rings are a symbol of the unbroken circle of love. Love freely given has no beginning and no end. Love freely given has no giver and no receiver - for each is the giver and each is the receiver. May these rings remind you always of the vows you have taken here today.

Exchange of rings. Groom receives ring from his Best Men, Bride from her Matron of Honor.

Groom: This ring is a symbol of my love and faithfulness, and with all that I am, and all that I have, I honor you, and pledge to you my love and life.

Bride: This ring is a symbol of my love and faithfulness, and with all that I am, and all that I have, I honor you, and pledge to you my love and life.

Officiant: Do you, Aaron, take Sara, whom you have promised to love and cherish, to be your lawfully wedded wife?

Groom: I do.

Officiant: Do you, Sara, take Aaron, whom you have promised to love and cherish, to be your lawfully wedded husband?

Bride: I do.

Officiant: Intimacy is what makes a marriage. Not a ceremony, not a word, not a piece of paper from the state. A wedding ceremony is only the outward symbol, a public announcement of that which is already within. While the powers vested in me by the State have given me the great privilege of rendering your union legal, yours is a bond that law can neither create nor destroy. May the confidence, trust, and affection you have for each other on this day, and all days, be the testament to your enduring love for each other as you go forth upon your journey of life together with all that it has to offer.

The poet Homer wrote, “There is nothing nobler or more admirable than when two people who see eye to eye keep house as man and wife, confounding their enemies and delighting their friends.” Aaron and Sara, having witnessed the proof of your love for each other in your vows of marriage on this, the eleventh of October, Two Thousand and Eight, all who are assembled here now joyfully invite you to embrace as husband and wife.


Officiant: Ladies and gentlemen, Aaron and Sara Golas!

Organ voluntary (Widor's Toccata from Symphony No.5) as audience applauds. Bride and Groom exit down center aisle. Exeunt omnia.

1 For a real sense of what it was like at our wedding, pretend you've been waiting over an hour for the bride to show up before beginning the ceremony. :-P

05 November 2008

Why Obama is no Buzz Windrip

Wherein I out myself as a rabid merito-classist.

Buzz Windrip, chief villain of Sinclair Lewis' novel It Can't Happen Here, rides a grassroots tidal wave of popular support to the White House. His promises of soft socialism to an economically uncertain American people win him an unprecedented landslide. But his big government quickly turns sour, and before they knew it, Americans found themselves living in a fascist state.

The paranoid middle class seems convinced that Obama's grassroots origins and liberal economic plans are going to have a similar effect.

This is absolute bollocks.

It is only incidental that Lewis' Windrip was a Democrat and a liberal. It is also only incidental that the Nazis began as a socialist party. Fascism does not categorically draw its support from either the right or the left. Rather, fascism feeds on the xenophobic, chest-beating, self-righteous paranoia of the poorly-educated, rural, lower-middle classes. In the 1930's, it just so happened that that segment of the American population voted Democrat. But these days, that same demographic is widely known as the Republican base. It doesn't matter whether you're promising greater individual autonomy or a stronger central government - it matters whether you're turning the uppity busybodies of the nation into a band of nationalist thugs.

Obama didn't win because he rallied the vast unwashed -- weilding the poor and ignorant like a cudgel these days is the Republicans' strategy of choice. Obama won because he managed to mobilize the well-educated and the prosperous in record numbers.