Skepchick Quickies, 9.30


Jen is a writer and web designer/developer in Columbus, Ohio. She spends too much time on Twitter at @antiheroine.

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  1. Re: the cheerleader link –

    It’s a sad state that I actually felt relief when I opened the link and saw that it wasn’t a Kentucky school.

    It was interesting to see the claim that the cheerleaders weren’t trying to advocate any particular religion right under a photo of the sign that specifically invoked Jesus.

  2. Oh if only I could attend their games. I’d bring a sign supporting Cthulhu & the opposing team & everytime they lost I’d make it a point to let them know that Cthulhu is stronger than Jesus/Yahweh.

  3. Part of me is surprised that it took this long to notice that the GPU of an XBox could be used for mathematical research. It’s not as if using game technology computer science is new. They’ve been using the cell processor in the PS3 for years, and that’s just this generation of consoles.

    My concern is that the GPU is designed to offload a specific task; rendering graphics. So while it’s very good at fast graphics rendering, which requires high-speed floating point operations, accuracy is not necessarily on its list of priorities. The GPU could be inking out fast performance by cutting corners that are simply unnecessary to render images for the naked eye. I presume he’s taken that into consideration, but I’ve got to wonder.

  4. Haha, I love the link about the XBox. That’s going to really piss Microsoft off, considering they sell those 360s at a tidy loss in hopes buyers will pick up at least three or four games that’ll recoup the costs of their loss.

  5. @LtStorm: Probably wouldn’t bother Microsoft very much. Sony enjoys some innovation cred for their cell processor, even though their performance in the console market hasn’t been quite what they’d hoped. Microsoft would probably welcome the opportunity to brag about alternative applications of their hardware.

    In fact, I wondered at first if Microsoft was plugging the article to say “see! Our console can do science too!”

  6. I wonder how all those defenders of “religious freedom” would react if those were surahs of the Qu’ran being touted during their football games.

    Scratch that, I don’t wonder at all…

  7. Whoever complained about the cheerleaders really missed an opportunity here. Doesn’t anybody on any side realize you don’t make a point by restricting somebody’s speech? You do it by getting your own group to carry a sign that says, “Who wants cheerleaders when you could have 72 VIRGINS? (Quran 44:51-55)”

    Then when somebody tells you to remove your sign, THAT’S when you get to make a point by pointing them toward their own hypocrisy.

  8. Agreed, FFFearless. We may not agree with the cheerleaders, but as one quote from the article says “they are not part of the state.” Applying separation of church and state to a sign they made on their own time with their own money is fallacious.

  9. See, I tend to disagree Jen. Separation of Church and State (as I understand it anyway) just means that the governement won’t show preferential treatment of any one religion. That doesn’t mean restricting speech, it means opening it up to anyone of any belief. Which is why I think an opportunity was missed here. Come in bearing signs for every other religion and THEN see who gets banned, and THEN you have a valid case for SOCAS.

  10. @Jen:

    The cheerleaders can do whatever they want in their free time holding up whatever kinds of signs or slogans they want. Activities that occur on publicly funded land, during a publicly funded action, while wearing official uniforms from the publicly funded institution have no right or ability to make any type of statement of religious support.

  11. @FFFearlesss: This is slightly difficult because separation of church and state is not officially defined anywhere, but I think it makes the most sense to define it simply and strictly as a separation. Meaning religion is one thing and the state is another and never the twain shall meet.

  12. @Peregrine:
    There’s been a lot of work over the past couple years on using GPUs for non-graphics tasks. They are specialized processors, but I don’t think there’s a danger of cutting corners by the processor itself. The code for graphics rendering can cut a lot of corners, but the processor does just what it is instructed to do.

    As I understand it, these things are very good for tasks where you want to do the same thing to many different variables at the same time. So, if you can frame your question in the form of a vector, you can get a big win from using GPUs.

    The downside is that you have to write most of your own code from scratch, as there aren’t a lot of libraries available yet (although they seem to be appearing).

    Video game development has been a big plus for scientific computing.

    I am a Hedge

  13. @Im a Hedge: They are specialized processors, but I don’t think there’s a danger of cutting corners by the processor itself.

    Ditto. I worked on a 3D rendering engine. We cut as many corners as possible in the interpolation for texturing and suchlike, but the math engine underneath it all was solid. Even if they wanted to modifying a proven floating point engine would be prohibitively expensive even just to make it dumber.

  14. @Jen: An individual can express a religious view or opinion regardless of where they are. The separation issue comes in when there is a religious opinion approved or sanctioned by the school or government body. This is a distinctly different situation than the ten commandment signs that have been displayed in government buildings in my opinion. There is established law allowing students freedom to express their religious opinions at school and even to have bible study or religious clubs at schools as long as there is no endorsement from the school. I think the way to go is to err on the side of personal freedom of expression as the higher priority over separation in this curcumstance.

  15. @James Fox: I agree with you in general, but I think this situation is different. This isn’t a private bible study or student group, this is a public display at a school-sponsored event. Students are allowed to do as they choose individually. But when they are publicly representing a public school in front of an audience, they are not acting in an individual capacity and have different responsibilities.

  16. I am informed by a more knowledgeable colleague that using the XBox is holding this guy back, if anything. GPUs have progressed substantially since the model used in the XBox, and much greater power can be had for much less money.

    The article mentions that he had some involvement with XBox development, so his reasons for choosing it may be based on something other than a pure cost/benefit analysis.

    I am a Hedge

  17. @Jen: I agree that their being in the outfit and to some extent representing the school does color the situation. But that wouldn’t change what they would be able to say verbally so I wonder if the sign is the issue as it could be seen as a broader public statement.

  18. @richunger: Once again, a very important point gets only a brief mention hidden deep in the story: “The mayor said football coach John Allen made the signs a tradition around 2003 and it has continued ever since.”

    Oops – That’s the real story, and it’s a blatantly obvious church-state violation. But even if the coach had not started this, there would still be a problem. You’re right that the school generally cannot restrict what students do with their own money on their own time, but there’s a significant complication here. The cheerleaders are not acting as private individuals here – They’re acting as official ambassadors of the school, wearing school-supplied uniforms identifying them as sanctioned representatives of the school at a state-sponsored event. It’s not _quite_ as blatant as the coach’s violation, but there is still a church-state problem here that isn’t easily dismissed.

    So, @Siveambrai: is on the right track.

    Nonetheless, I’m not entirely comfortable with @Jen: ‘s comments, although this might be more of a misunderstanding of a brief message than a fundamental disagreement. Church-state separation _is_ officially defined by decades of case law and court rulings. Jen is correct that the definition isn’t spelled out in the Constitution, but there’s another place to look: judicial precedent. The state can neither promote nor hamper religion, so there is not necessarily a problem if students “…display [a religious] sign in a public school funded by government money.” For example, if the principal installs a bulletin board in the hallway for students to put up notices, then there is NOT a church-state problem if some students choose to tack up a religious sign on that board. The law is quite clear that the principal couldn’t block religious signs because that would be officially discouraging religion. So, the problem here isn’t that a religious sign appeared on state property at a state-sponsored event. That’s not enough. It only becomes a problem if you can view the cheerleaders as official representatives of the school. (Which I do.) Or if the dumbass coach starts it.

  19. The comments at the cheerleader story are a hoot.

    If they changed the word, “God” [can I still print that??] to Allah and “Christ Jesus” to “Mohammad”, there would be no complaints.

    Another one for “Idiot or liar”.

    Just wait everyone. If our “Dear Leader” (as I’ve seen it stated on this site so many times) has it his way, we will all be ceremoniously praying 5 times a day before his term ends. At least for now we can still pray to our own Lord.

    Of course. The very openly Christian President is really a closet Muslim. People all over the political spectrum seem to have a really difficult time accepting that this guy is a Christian.

    [I]f we want schools to control their students, how about they do the impossible (hard as they try)and keep them from shooting people, stealing, cheating on tests, doing drugs, that kind of thing.

    I went to school in the 40’s and 50’s. We had prayer, Bible reading, and the pledge to the flag every morning before class started. I cannot cite you one instance of anyone doing any of the above. We knew better. Our parents would have killed us.

    No one stole anything in school int he 40s and 50s? No one cheated on tests? Because they read the Bible in school?

    And that’s just from the very top of the page. It apparently goes on and on, but I have things to do.

    I am a Hedge

  20. @Im a Hedge: The very existence of this Mst3k short would seem to indicate that cheating was a problem in the 50’s [link].

    The funny thing is, my grandfather once told me that while attending school in the 30’s he flattened all four tires on his teacher’s brand new car. He got in trouble (especially with the teacher), but I’m pretty sure his parents didn’t kill him. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to ask him if he had read the bible and said the pledge of allegiance that morning.

  21. @busterggi Oh its all fun and games to support Cthulhu when you are on the the far side of the world. But here in NZ I live on the closest landmass to R’lyeh. So when the sleeper awakens we will be the first to feel the consquences.

    As a former member of CCC* I can say the results will not be pretty.

    * (Campus Crusade for Cthulhu.. and to be honest I know I filled in the membership form.. I can’t remember if I handed it in. The question on the membership form about brainwashing may be a hint as to where those memorys went )

  22. “Who wants cheerleaders when you could have 72 VIRGINS? (Quran 44:51-55)”

    Hey, come on now, some of those cheerleaders could be virgins. ;)

    I think I’d rather see a sign that said “There is no God, win this for Ben Franklin High!!”

  23. @Im a Hedge: “The comments at the cheerleader story are a hoot.

    . . .

    And that’s just from the very top of the page. It apparently goes on and on, but I have things to do.”

    They absolutely are a hoot, and even more so as you read down the somewhat interminable page. The interplay between the few sane individuals trying to explain the issue in rational terms and the mass of other commenters is not unexpected but sad. When you get a chance, read on.

  24. @Brian:

    When you get a chance, read on.

    Ah ha, I see that you’re part of the old ‘let’s push Hedge over the edge into loopy looneyville’ brigade. Well, I’m not falling for that one again.

    I am a Hedge

  25. @ekimbrough:
    Once again, a very important point gets only a brief mention hidden deep in the story: “The mayor said football coach John Allen made the signs a tradition around 2003 and it has continued ever since.”

    It only says the signs were made a tradition. It doesn’t specifically say anything about their content.

    But you have to admit it’s funny how it’s not “pushing religion” when it concerns just a few motivational quotes that happen to be from the bible, but if those quotes should come from another source like the Quran, the Tao Che Ting or any other non-christian religion, it would be considered a bad influence on young, innocent, impressionable minds who are only there to watch a football game, not to be lured astray by heretics and their blasphemous messages.

  26. @exarch: Yep, the article is ambiguous when it generically says “signs” and not specifically “religious signs.” Nonetheless, I find it rather implausible that cheerleaders were not making any type of signs at all before 2003. I’ve sure never heard of cheerleaders who waited until 2003 to make their first generic Go Team! signs, and who needed a coach to suggest this. Also, why would the reporter bother mentioning the 2003 origin of the signs unless this refers to the religious content?

    By strictest reading, you could indeed be correct – particularly if by “signs” the reporter meant neither “generic signs” nor “religious signs” but instead “specifically those banners that the team bursts through just before kickoff.” But the sentence doesn’t stand in isolation. Given the surrounding context of the article and the usual sign-making ethology of the cheerleader clade, I still say the most plausible reading here is that the coach suggested religious messages.

  27. @ekimbrough: Well, I can imagine having the football team crash through a giant paper banner before every game might mean lots of banners and lots of time and money spent making them. Perhaps they only did this occasionally until 2003, when the coach suggested it become a tradition.

    But as you’re probably a little more familiar with American culture and highschool traditions than I am, I’ll side with your interpretation for now.

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