Background Probability

The Agnostic Popular Front has moved to its new home at Skeptic Ink, and will henceforth be known as Background Probability. Despite the relocation and rebranding, we will continue to spew the same low-fidelity high-quality bullshit that you've come to expect.

Friday, May 9, 2003

Tornado watch

A tornado ripped through the southeast portion of the OKC metro area yesterday afternoon. At some point, it became clear that the storm was tracking more or less towards the massive windowless brick building where I work, that is, 3001 Staff Drive, on Tinker AFB.

Fortunately, I had taken the precaution of driving back across town a bit early in order to get home and out of harm's way. The wife was thrilled to find me home safe, and the whole family crowded around the television to track the progress of the storm while basking in the relative safety and comfort of our living room, situated as it is on the northwest side of the city.

While basking, we were informed by the nice folks at FOX 25 (who normally broadcast The Simpsons during that time of day) that the tornado was moving past the GM plant towards my place of employment. At this point I began praying fervently to all the gods and goddesses I could think of that the tornado would pass over my friends and smite my enemies. As it turns out, my incantation was only partially effective, for my friends were spared, but then too were mine enemies. Not a one of them was smote, not even a little bit. Alas and alack.

Probably the lesson here is to know ahead of time which gods and goddesses are more intimately connected with whatever natural disaster happens to be heading your way. If I could have focused my petitioning efforts only on those deities that deal directly with thunderstorms, I may well have been far more effective.

This morning, a friend of mine e-mailed me to let me know that he was okay. He obliquely mentioned the hand of fate in his life, “...had I left work five to ten minutes later, I would have been in the middle of it.” Now he must know that the gods and goddesses were looking out for him, and still he has yet to thank me for my intercessory prayers on his behalf. Ah well, there is always treasure in heaven.

Now that I think about it, had I left work nearly an hour later and taken a marginally roundabout route home (past the GM plant) I would no doubt have been struck by the full fury of the storm. So I suppose the deities are looking out for me, too. Probably I should send my mother a thank-you note for that.

As to those poor blighters that really got pounded, no doubt they had it coming to them. Nothing happens but by the will of the gods, and thus we may safely assume that they must have been transworld-depraved idolaters.

Thursday, May 8, 2003

When politics, religion, and science collide...

You end up with codswallop like disclaimers on evolution textbooks in Oklahoma public schools. The original evolution disclaimer has once again reared its ugly head in the Oklahoma legislature, and this time it is up to the state senate to pass it along to the Governor or allow it to once again recede into the fevered imagination of its creationist sponsors.

A scathing yet scientific critique of said disclaimer may be found at Dr. Kenneth R. Miller’s website. If you want the politicians to stick to politics and leave science to the scientists, probably you should click here.

Electoral reform

As I walked about this past week trying to harvest my fair share of the +50k sigs needed to get the Libertarian party recognized in the great state of Oklahoma, I found myself rebuffed in rather interesting ways.  Many folks admitted outright (and with minimal prompting) that they had no desire for more than two choices on the ballot -- and some laughed out loud at themselves for doing so.  This naturally set me to wondering -- why is it so damnably difficult to get third-parties noticed in this nation?

In my deepening frustration and profound ignorance I turned to the internet to learn what the political scientists had to say and I found the following thoughts and references courtesy of the folks at

For almost 150 years, the U.S. has maintained a two-party system, which itself is rather unique among democratic party systems--as Jean Blondel shows in his classification of electoral systems. Why have we had only two dominant parties for so long when most other nations have a multiparty system? Our electoral system is the leading suspect. The French political scientist, Maurice Duverger, explained the influence of electoral laws on party systems in the late 1940s. One of his articles appears on our web site.

I found the Duverger article particularly straightforward and insightful.  All this time I thought the major parties had consolidated their hold on power gradually by adding statues to the books (e.g. restrictive ballot access) when the real culprit was the winner-take-all electoral scheme put into place at the founding of the republic.  Alas and alack.

Turns out there are loads of ways around this problem, such as proportional representation in the legislature and alternative election methods for the executive branch.